The Looking-Glass World of the Judgemental

by the Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s and Vice-Chair of the Ozanne Foundation

David ison 2

In some churches, members have to be judged worthy by others in order to receive the sacrament of communion, going beyond the Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s concerns about ‘open and notorious evil livers’.

The General Synod in February heard about ‘Pastoral Principles for living well together’. The Fourth Principle refers to the sacraments as God’s gift; none of us are worthy save by God’s mercy. But it also asks ‘what it means to be in right relationship with God before receiving these sacraments’.

And it goes on to say ‘The Book of Common Prayer (BCP), for example, helpfully exhorts everyone to examine their “worthiness” before receiving communion’ and asks us to wrestle with ‘how to become a church that exhorts everyone to examine their “worthiness” in a meaningful and habitual way’. And this is in the context of ‘the tensions that may arise between discipleship as a personal and individual response to Christ driven by conviction and conscience, and discipleship as membership of a community – the church – seeking to live in the light of its historically received and understood traditions’.

To link ‘worthiness’ with individual conscience is a modern cultural take on what Scripture actually says: yes, it’s in the BCP, but it’s a partial reading (in both senses of the word ‘partial’) of the words of St Paul on which it’s based. And the Pastoral Principles use ‘worthiness’ in a context where it’s assumed by some that LGBT people are likely to be living in a way which is unholy and disqualifies them from receiving God’s grace in the sacrament.

That’s made more explicit in the January 2019 Letter from Concerned Anglicans in the Oxford Diocese, which tells the Oxford Bishops that ‘in supporting the formulation first produced by the Bishops of Lichfield, [your Ad Clerum] Letter makes specific reference to nobody being excluded or discouraged from receiving the sacraments of baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Such indiscriminate participation seems to be inconsistent with the witness of Scripture: for the early Christians, these sacraments were only for those of the household of faith (eg, Acts 2: 41-42); and the Apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11: 27-29 clearly discourages participation in the Lord’s Supper for those who have not examined themselves.’

The Lichfield and Oxford bishops were not in their letters advocating ‘indiscriminate participation’ by anyone, but upholding the Church of England’s policy on admitting people to the sacraments (see Canon B16 ‘Of notorious offenders not to be admitted to Holy Communion’). But the ‘Concerned Anglicans’ assume that LGBTI+ people are outside the household of faith, and that they have not examined themselves, because they haven’t come to the same view as that of the Concerned Anglicans.

It’s a relief to go back to the words of St Paul, more searching and radical than words such as ‘worthiness’ or ‘worthy reception’ suggest. In 1 Corinthians 11.17-34, Paul addresses an abuse in the Corinthian church: there are factions which don’t acknowledge each other’s equal worth before God, and at communion the rich keep their bread and wine for themselves and eat their fill, while the poor next to them go hungry. Paul scolds them, and points them back to Jesus, whose loving death they should proclaim in sharing the bread and wine together, as his body.

What Paul points to here isn’t the Corinthians’ individual spiritual lives before God (‘am I worthy?’), but the manner in which, when together, they deny by their actions the body of Christ in the sacrament, and his body in the church (‘are we acting together in a way that demonstrates the embodied love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ?’). And the Corinthians have been judged because they don’t value the body of Christ.

It’s not individual ‘worthy reception’ that Paul talks about: it’s the action of eating and drinking unworthily together, not recognising the body of Christ in those with whom we disagree. The BCP acknowledges that as we come to the sacrament, we should repent of our sins (not the sins of which others assume we’re guilty), and also obey the command to live in love and charity with our neighbours.
So who is Paul addressing for today, and how? LGBT Christians who seek to follow Jesus Christ and feel called to faithful relationships? Those who welcome others in Christ’s name to the table of Jesus Christ? Or those who judge the worthiness of other Christians with whom they disagree, and refuse to pray with them or share communion with them?

It’s ironic, and worse, that Paul’s confronting of corporate division and contempt is used by one part of Christ’s body as a stick with which to beat and exclude another part of Christ’s body – when Paul is telling his hearers to take a good look at themselves, not others.

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Voices of Hope – March 9th 2019

Roy ClementsSurely God is too big to cry?

But not according to Hosea. Sure, he’s never reduced to helplessness, but that does not mean he’s never reduced to tears. For love is something that you cannot coerce by mere exercise of power or strength of will. Love is something that we can always refuse to give if we insist upon doing so. We can even deny it to omnipotence.

Hosea knew from personal experience that there is no pain in the whole world quite so intense as that associated with unrequited love. Some of us, I guess, know it too. For, like him, we have been rejected by those we’ve loved: our family, our lover, our church?

Well, the prophet would have us realise that God does not just offer us patronising pity when we feel like that. He knows exactly how we feel because he’s been there himself. He is no stranger to the pain of a broken heart.

You want to see how much the heart of God is wounded by our callous indifference to his love? Then look at the cross! Its very shape symbolises the fierce collision of contradictory emotions which Hosea speaks about. There the divine love and anger collide in one momentous catharsis.

As the Apostle Paul puts it, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Cor5:19).

A Prayer

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;

They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds, only God’s wounds can speak,

And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.

 (Jesus of the Scars  by Edward Shillito – written while on service during the 1914-18 war)

Please note that Dr Clements plans to launch a free audio archive of his 20-year ministry in Cambridge this Easter. The website will also provide free access to his past books, publishers permitting, which have long been out-of-print.

Next Week – A Series of Reflections on “All One in Christ”

Posted in Guest Contributors, Human Sexuality, Voices of Hope | 4 Comments

Voices of Hope – March 8th 2019

chris newlands

The Book of Ruth is unique in the Bible. Not because it has a woman’s name – there is also the Book of Esther (and if you have a Jerusalem Bible, you’ll also find the Book of Judith) – but because it describes the loving relationship between two women.

In the first five verses of the Book of Ruth, Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons leave their hometown, Bethlehem to escape a famine and settle in the land of Moab. He dies, and his sons marry, but soon they also die, leaving their widows, together with their widowed mother bereft and without a protector.

Now that they are all three widows, they are counted as worthless in their society, and with little hope for their future. Naomi vows to return home to Bethlehem, and urges her daughters-in-law to seek new husbands as a means of survival. One of them, Orpah, does that, and we hear no more of her. But the second, Ruth, declares that she will not leave her mother-in-law in this most moving verse.

In a book which focuses on human relationships, this story of devotion is deeply moving. Ruth is prepared to leave her own home, culture and religion to cling to Naomi, and to be guided by her. (Mona West* points out that the Hebrew word used to describe Ruth’s “clinging” to Naomi is “davka” – the same word is used in Genesis 2.24 to describe the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage.)

Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi’s, hears of her devotion, and becomes Ruth’s protector and eventual husband, though with Naomi still at the heart of this unconventional new family unit. Boaz and Ruth have a son, Obed (who was to be the grandfather of King David) and when the women of Bethlehem gather to celebrate this new birth, they all congratulate Naomi and celebrate the love that Ruth has for her.

I believe God’s blessings can be found for all who show love and humility in their lives, as did Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth.

It’s a simple, human story, but one for our own time too, as we celebrate those who are strangers in our land, and form non-traditional family units, but through them, and their love and devotion, God is at work to bring great blessings for the future.

I hope you will not find it inappropriate that as a gay man, and in solidarity with my lesbian sisters, I have chosen to celebrate the Biblical relationship between two women on this International Women’s Day!

A Prayer

God of Ruth and Naomi, of David and Jonathan, we thank you for the example of love which transcends boundaries of age, gender, and nationality. Inspire us to celebrate true love wherever it is found, and to acknowledge you as the source of all love and beauty; through Jesus the Christ, in whom God’s love is made flesh. Amen.    

Tomorrow – Dr Roy Clements, The Passion at the Heart of the Universe, Hosea 11

*The Queer Bible Commentary on Ruth

Posted in Guest Contributors, Human Sexuality, Voices of Hope | 2 Comments

Voices of Hope – March 7th 2019

Gareth Wardell

The Revd Gareth Wardell worked in the field of overseas aid and development for many years.  He is now a Vicar in the Diocese of London.  (Photo: “Two dog collars for the price of one!”  Gareth with his Pastoral Assistant, Libby!)

These words, spoken about Jesus at his baptism, are ones I have clung to over the years as God’s word to all who experience exclusion simply for being themselves.

Most LGBTI+ people experience rejection early in their lives.  Starting school on a tough local council estate in the 1970s, I learned quickly to blend-in and not attract attention.  In the family home we spoke received pronunciation, but within weeks, I’d learnt to speak with a fluent ‘saaff-east London’ accent. This wasn’t affectation, it was an essential survival technique!

I think it’s also a metaphor for the way many gay people live their lives in a straight person’s world.  Changing to be acceptable to others is a daily experience, especially for those growing up evangelical. I vividly remember hearing a preacher describe gay people as “a stench in the nostrils of God” (I was longing to tell him it was just my aftershave, but thought better of it!)

In my final year at university, I was shocked to read in the small-print of my application forms for the Diplomatic Service ‘Homosexuals are deemed to be a security risk and need not apply’.  I didn’t, obviously! As I grew older, I tried my best to fit-in, praying earnestly that God would change me so that I could become acceptable.

What a difference three decades makes!

Today, overt discrimination against LGBTI+ people is illegal and those employers once seen as bastions of homophobia (the police, the armed services etc.) now compete with each other to win Stonewall diversity awards.  Not so the Church. As a Vicar I work for one of the few organisations still allowed to discriminate against its LGBTI+ employees or office holders.

Change is coming, but not fast enough. When I’m feeling low, the temptation is to believe the lie that who I am is unacceptable; that I’m ‘intrinsically dis-ordered’.  At such times I hold on to God’s words: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’

A Prayer

Almighty God, thank you for your great love for all your children. Your son Jesus was despised and rejected by others. Draw close today to all who feel demeaned and belittled simply for being the people you have made them. During this season of Lent help us to be especially mindful of those on the margins and teach us afresh what it means to take up our cross and follow in the way of Christ.  Amen.

Tomorrow – the Revd Canon Chris Newlands with a reflection for International Women’s Day

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Voices of Hope – March 6th 2019

Jayne Ozanne

We each have a testimony – it is God’s gift to us and us alone.  No one else can tell it, no one else can live it, no one else can ever take it away.

It is ours.

You see, each one of us has a unique story that tells of our own individual love affair with our Creator God – how we have each come to know and accept the undeniable reality of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, this combination of experience and grace has led us to know without question that we are loved and that we are lovable.

For many of us within the LGBTI+ community, our testimony has involved a painful journey through rejection and hurt, which has required much faith.  We have endured many long desert days – a form of unexpected exile – that have come as a result of our being driven from our spiritual homes into a world that has at times felt arid and dry .

But take heart, for it was the Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into his desert place – and who encouraged and ministered to Him along the way.

The good news is that Christ has trod exactly the same path that we now tread.  Like Him, in Him, we too will surely overcome.

For there is power in our testimony – power to overcome all that would stop God’s unconditional life-giving love being made known to a world that is desperately in need of grace.  Of course, there will always be much to contend with – such as those who try to silence us and stop us from giving the reason for the hope that dwells within us all.

That’s why I’ve created these series of Daily Reflections for Lent, which gives an opportunity to 40 LGBTI+ Christians from around the UK to tell their stories and share how God has spoken both truth and grace into their lives when they have needed it most.

I hope that as you journey with us through the next few weeks that you too will hear the Word of God speaking truth and grace into your heart also.  As we look at six broad themes together, my prayer is that you will be encouraged and know that you never travel alone, and that you too can overcome!

A Prayer

Heavenly Father, help us to know that we never journey alone – that You are with us at every step of the way.  I pray that You will use this Lent period to enable me to hear afresh the strength of Your love for me and that You will enable me to know that there is always power in my testimony. Amen.

Reflections will be posted every day except Sundays.  The themes that we will cover are:

Mar 6th – 9th                     Introduction to series

Mar 11th – 16th                 We are All One in Christ

Mar 18th – 23rd                Wonderfully & Fearfully Made

Mar 25th – 30th                The Healing Power of God’s Love

Apr 1st – 6th                      Holding onto Hope in a Dry Place

Apr 8th – 13th                    Truths to Live By

Apr 15th – 20th                 God Will Bring Us Home

Tomorrow – the Revd Gareth Wardell, ‘Change is Coming!’, Mark 1:11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Human Sexuality, Jayne Ozanne, Voices of Hope | 1 Comment

Why do Good People do Bad Things?

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and Member of General Synod


Rosie Haarper

 

I came back from General Synod last week asking this question: Why do good people do bad things?  I’d met people from every wing of the Church who were unfailingly ‘nice’ They were polite to me even though I know from the responses to my last blog that some of them are convinced I am “Cruella de Vil” incarnate!

More than that; I know that most of the folk I disagree with are kind and honourable and hold their faith with far more confidence than mine.

More than that; when I describe the human pain and suffering that their attitudes and beliefs cause, they are genuinely empathetic. They are sorry about the pain and would not want to cause it.

And yet………for many the importance of their core beliefs are such they that supersede the moral imperative to treat everyone with equality and compassion.

This is where we are.  The empathy leads to multiple apologies. Apologies to gay people, apologies to trans people, apologies to survivors of abuse.

But nothing changes.

A striking example of this came from the very top this week. Having had so many hand-wringing ‘regretful acknowledgements of an offence or failure’ (Dictionary) about the way the church has treated it’s gay members, none-the-less the invitation to the next Lambeth Conference explicitly excluded the spouses of same-sex married couples.

Just one more example. Geoff Whaley who was suffering from MND and had chosen to go to Switzerland for an assisted death, explained what happened in a letter to Parliament: “But then, as I was saying my final goodbyes and preparing myself for the end, the final, biggest bomb dropped and I could no longer keep it together.

“This bomb was in fact an anonymous phone call to social services who informed the police of my plans to go to Switzerland. Within hours Ann and I were facing a criminal investigation. The thought that I might not make it to Switzerland, or that, if I did, Ann might be facing 14 years in jail for helping me, was almost too much to bear.”

This action of calling the police seems an unnaturally cruel and inhuman act. Why would anyone want to do that? Why do good people do bad things?

On BBC Radio 4 on Feb 26th there was a fascinating interview with Gwen Adshead on The Life Scientific. She is a forensic psychotherapist who works with violent offenders including 19 years working at Broadmoor. In her search to understand how these men could do such violent acts she worked with the moral philosopher Jonathan Glover to examine their moral reasoning.

The assumption has been that in murderers and violent criminals their moral reasoning was poor and in some way different from the rest of us. They discovered that almost always this wasn’t the case. Their moral reasoning, their capacity to understand good from bad was not actually different form most people’s. What made the difference was the ability to create a very powerful “justificatory narrative”, a story which you tell yourself which says it is alright to behave this way.

So, for example, someone whose early life was traumatised by the way their father was always going with prostitutes might well create a narrative in which the world would be a better place without any prostitutes and it was his role to bring that about. This man would know full well that killing was bad and caused suffering, but the power of his justificatory narrative was such that he felt it was alright to murder.

That of course is an extreme example, but it got me thinking. Is that what is going on when good people do bad and cruel things? Is there even an extra twist in religious circles because of the way we can attribute our justificatory narratives to God: “ I know you experience this as cruel and discriminatory, but the Bible/God clearly  says………..”

Some of these justificatory narratives can be massive. For example the story which has evolved in the Catholic Church that a Priest must be celibate.

Father Daniel O’Leary, a well-known writer, was diagnosed with cancer last June and died on 21 Jan this year. Shortly before his death he wrote a piece which was published posthumously in The Tablet, so as to be “free of fear and bitterness, and full of love and desire, as I step up for the final inspection.”

“I now believe, with all my heart, that compulsory celibacy is a kind of sin, an assault against God’s will and nature,” 

“I’m just pointing out that one of the fall-outs of mandatory celibate life is the violence it does to a priest’s humanity, and the wounds that it leaves on his ministry.”

In other words, the narrative around celibacy has justified a very cruel practice, which, if it is not your narrative looks totally counter to all normal moral reasoning.

At an individual level these narratives are rooted in very deep personal stuff. A little seven year old who is sent off to school with his much missed mummy’s words ringing in his ears  ‘watch out for those homos’ is going to find an anti -gay narrative much easier to buy into, even more so when it also puts him into a “special Christian club of true believers”.

The point is that we all construct these. We have very powerful drivers which sometimes trump our natural human, indeed humane responses.

It seems to me that this is why Jesus bypassed all the rules makers. Even rules made with the best of intentions can be used to terrorise people. When asked what it was all about he simply said ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37).

So actually there is a very simple test we can apply to our own justificatory narratives. If you have got to qualify Jesus’ clear command to love your neighbour as yourself with the word ‘but’, then you need to go back to the drawing board.

I find this concept hugely helpful and challenging. What narratives have I constructed that allow me to behave badly to others?

It also helps me understand why people I see as good and decent people sometimes act in very cruel ways in the name of God.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Human Sexuality, Rosie Harper | 3 Comments

Elephants, Penguins, Procreation & Japanese Knotweed (Part 2)

by Dr Meg Warner, Old Testament Theologian, Member of General Synod and author of Abraham

Meg Warner

(This blog is in response to Dr Davie’s critique of Dr Warner’s original blog that was posted on ViaMedia on Feb 8th 2019.)

I am grateful to Dr Davie for his close engagement with my blog post, ‘Elephants, Penguins, Procreation and Japanese Knotweed’. There are, however, three aspects of Dr Davie’s blog in respect of which I feel that a further response is required.

  1. Davie writes, ‘First of all, throughout the Bible, it is either stated that marriage leads to the procreation of children, or it is assumed that it will. Time without number in the Bible people who are married have children and this is regarded as a normal and expected turn of events, and as the way in which God builds up his people.’

There is a world of difference between saying, on the one hand, that the Bible states or assumes that ‘A’ will lead to ‘B’, and claiming, on the other, that the Bible teaches us that ‘A’ is for ‘B’, and that ‘B’ must be considered intrinsic to ‘A’, with the effect that the claimed relationship between ‘A’ and ‘B’ must be reflected in the lives of Christians today.

One of the myriad challenges of interpreting biblical narratives, including Genesis 1-3, is determining what the narratives specifically set out to present as situations or behaviours to be emulated, and what is simply adopted or assumed from the surrounding culture(s). Dr Davie offers some examples, such as the Book of Ruth, in which childbirth is indeed assumed to follow on from marriage. Is this sufficient to establish that Genesis means to tell the reader that childbirth is an intrinsic part of marriage? Or do its narratives do little more than reflect ordinary practice of the time? There are all sorts of practices relating to marriage reflected in Genesis narratives that we do not consider to be elements of marriage today. For example, we do not maintain a custom of payment of the mohar (‘bride price’, eg. Genesis 29 and 34) or countenance polygamy (eg. Genesis 16, 25, 26 and 29). On the other hand, Davie doesn’t refer to a number of instances in Genesis in which childbirth is not preceded by marriage. These include the birth of Adam and Eve’s children (see further below) and the children born to the maidservants of Leah and Rachel.

Davie’s argument in this regard is weak. While not entirely without merit, it certainly does not warrant the strong statements that Davie seeks to build upon it, to the effect that a marriage that is ‘intrinsically closed to procreation cannot be a marriage any more than a triangle can have a fourth corner, a truth can be a lie, or an elephant can be a penguin’.

  1. Davie writes, ‘The problem with this reading of Genesis 1 and 2 is that it ignores the basic rule of biblical interpretation that you need to read biblical books as whole entities. Genesis 1 and 2 are part of a much bigger continuous narrative that extends all the way to Genesis 50 and so they have to be read together, and read in the light of this bigger narrative.’

The idea that biblical books ought to be read as whole entities is certainly a rule of biblical interpretation, but it is not the only one. The best readings do this, certainly, but they also have sensitivity to how passages function in their immediate literary contexts, especially when scholarship tells us that the text as we have it is likely to have undergone a complicated transmission process. Care needs to be taken to identify and to honour the multiple voices in the text, and to avoid doing violence to them by adopting a ‘flat’ interpretation that assumes concordance between all elements. The relationship between Genesis 1 and 2 is a parade example, and the intricacies of the relationship between these two chapters could not possibly be navigated fully in a single blog post.

  1. Davie concludes, ‘To sum up: we need to read Genesis as whole and when we do we find that Adam and Eve, the paradigm married couple, fulfil Genesis 1:28 through their marital relationship and this establishes a God given pattern for human behaviour which the rest of the Bible (and the subsequent tradition of the Church) simply follows.’ (my emphasis)

The problem with Davie’s final assertion is that far from presenting Adam and Eve as a paradigmatic married couple, Genesis does not even present them as married. There is no record of their marriage in Genesis, any more than Genesis tells us that living creatures and birds married before fulfilling God’s mandate to them to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. While English translations of Genesis 2 and 3 use the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, the Hebrew words used in each case, ish and ishshah, mean both woman/wife and man/husband, and therefore do not point necessarily to a marital relationship. Further, the allusion to marriage in Gen 2:24 (‘Therefore a man/husband leaves his father and his mother and clings to his woman/wife and they become one flesh’) is not very strong. While many, even most, scholars agree that marriage is envisaged here, there is no distinctive marital language used. The two verbs, ‘leave’ and ‘cleave’, for example, are distinctly covenantal, and while marriage is certainly presented as a form of covenant in the Old Testament, these two terms are distinctive of covenantal relationships between God and Israel (and the gods of the nations). For these reasons, and others, a significant minority of scholars (including very senior and influential scholars) take the view that Gen 2:24 does not allude to marriage at all, but rather to the strong pull between men and women that is the consequence of God’s actions in creation.[1]

If Genesis does not explicitly witness to Adam and Eve’s marital state, it is difficult to maintain an argument that they are to be considered paradigmatic in modelling an exclusive pattern of marriage and procreation to be followed today.

 

[1] See further my discussion of the verse in Megan Warner, ‘Therefore a Man Leaves his Father and his Mother and Clings to his Wife: Marriage and Intermarriage in Gen 2:24’, Journal of Biblical Literature 113 (2017): 269-289.

 

Posted in Human Sexuality, Meg Warner | 2 Comments