Sunday, 26 February 2012


Something I have said I need to do for a while, is address whether homosexuality is biblically acceptable. There are many who say it is not, and others who say it is, and others who say that those passages are no longer culturally relevant and should be ignored. So I want to see if there is an interpretation of the bible that is acceptable of homosexuality, on a par, say, with having women teaching in church - something that is also clearly disallowed in 1 Cor 14, and yet arguments are made that the clear message of this should not be taken as the real meaning - something I agree with, BTW.

What is very interesting is that, if you search for "homosexual" in the NIV, it only turns up 1 reference. Yes one solitary reference. That is 1 Tim, and we will return to that later. In fact, more research into the Greek root finds a second reference, 1 Cor 6:9, in a similar list - 2 references. And it is a basic rule of biblical translation that the fewer occasions a word appears in context, the less reliable it is to translate. A word that appears twice in the biblical texts, and both times in lists, the translation into what we term homosexuality - as a sexual inclination - we have to be very cautious of.

The starting point is Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 where it ways "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman". Now the context of this is a whole lot of restrictions on sexual behaviour, including not having sexual relationship during a womans period, as well as not with close relationships. But you don't see the church up in arms about these. Actually, a number of these restrictions are covered by incest, a problem that the church seems to be less up in arms about than homosexuality.

The terms of this passage can also be interpreted as a challenge to bi-sexual behaviour - sexual relationships with male and female together. But more so, in the context of the preceding verse about  Molech, the command is about not being sexually promiscuous, not sleeping with anyone and anything, not giving into the demands of sex-worship. And, let me be clear, it is one command amongst a whole range that we tend to ignore - the strict Levitical legal structure is not one which we tend to be bound by these days.

OK, so what of the New Testament - because there are no other references directly in the Old. In Romans 1:26 we have this passage from Paul "In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men", referring to Sodom and Gomorrah. So surely this is a condemnation of homosexuality? Surely Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for this? Well the problem with Sodom and Gomorrah was that they were promiscuous, abusive, given over to a worship of sex of all sorts. In the passage from Genesis, they want to have sex with Lots visitors. Actually, this is about a desire to rape and abuse guests - this is not about sexual inclination, it is about abuse and power. It is about people "inflamed with lust". The expression of this was that they wanted sex with everyone, not just their partners.

And sexual abuse - the use of sex as power, the context of rape as being a power act, not a sex act - is wrong. Completely, and utterly. The worship of sex that occurred in Sodom was wrong and an offense to God. And is something that we see a whole lot of in our society today. But this is not about inclination, it is about sex as power, sex as marketing tool. It is something that we are as vulnerable to even if we are not homosexually inclined. It is about sexual lust and sex as power - something that everyone is vulnerable to.

Finally, let us return to 1 Tim 1:10. "the law is made for ... the sexually immorality, those practicing homosexuality..." the context here is again about immorality, abuse and not sexual orientation. There is a possibility that homosexuality in this context is as much about a lifestyle than an orientation - that homosexuals were generally very promiscuous sexually, and it is this that is being condemned.A similar context is provided in 1 Cor. That would fit in with the context of the passage. To assume that because the term "homosexual" is used in our English translation means that it is the same as we understand it is something I tackled in a previous post, and we cannot make that leap. We need to understand context.

So the condemnation of homosexuality in the biblical texts appears to be all in the context of debauchery, promiscuity, sexual freedom and abuse. In the cultural context, homosexuality was a part of a lifestyle that included sexually promiscuous behaviour. The - rather scant - condemnation of homosexual behaviour seems to be always in this context, which would suggest to me that what is really under condemnation is promiscuous, abusive and debauched behaviour.

I am not convinced, that there is here a strong enough argument for rejection of a committed, monogamous, loving, homosexual relationship. At the very least, there would seem to be a whole lot more critical issues to address ahead of this - sexual abuse and promiscuity is a far more significant issue to challenge. And the small number of references suggests to me that this is not a critical matter. Most definitely not an issue that churches should divide on, or make as an important touchstone. Yes there are passages of significance, but it seems that stable relationships are what God wants. I have no doubt that others will disagree.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

That is not This

Have you noticed how often people misuse words, because they have some appropriate context? Words like "Church", "Homosexuality", "Calling". And so often, these

Words are interesting things. It is very difficult to actually be precise with words, and some people take advantage of this. It is very easy to appear to be precise, while actually being very evasive. "Words are like a certain person, who can't say what they mean, don't mean what they say"- that is from the Tom Tom Clubs Wordy Wrappinghood. Very true - words are tricky things, which is why in academic circles it is so important to be clear and precise.

But there is more to it than that. A band may call themselves "punk", because that is edgy, cool and means they don't have to play particularly well. Of course, if their mindset is not punk, of they are actually wanting to make money and have a successful musical career from their work, then that is not very punk. Just calling something by a name does not mean it is the thing we call it.

The church is particularly bad at this. "Speaking in Tongues" is a prime example. Glossolalia as we hear it today has been given the same name that we see in Bible texts, and there is a whole lot of interpretive material around this to justify the comparison. But is it valid? Is what we experience today the same as what St Paul was talking about? We have no way of knowing. It may be, or it may be something completely different - not necessarily bad, just not the same as we call it.

There are other words we do the same sort of thing with - "Church" for example. We put the entire weight of the Bibles teaching on a local gathering, which it does not always bear. Let me clarify - "St Bogsmiths Fellowship" does not equal "The Church". Undoubtedly, there are members of the fellowship who are part of the worldwide church. Undoubtedly, some of the work of the fellowship is building the kingdom of God on earth. But to put the entire weight of "Church" on this group is wrong.

It is a danger especially of the more conservative or right-wing churches to identify themselves as "The Church". But this does not actually match the biblical understanding. There seems, in fact, to be two interpretations of the phrase "church" from the bible texts:

1. The entire collection of believers. This clearly includes those who are not part of any local church, and clearly does not include those who attend a local church but are not, in fact, believers. The Church, in this context just means all of those who God to be his. We have no say whatsoever in this.

2. Those who identify themselves as believers in a town or city, or area. The reason for dividing in this way was because the social society was divided in this way - each town was largely distinct, and people would associate themselves with a town. These days, this concept is still important, but not as critical, because communication is so much better, and it is quite possible to talk to people across the world.

Now this is not to dismiss the importance, for many people, of gathering together locally. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with doing this. But relating this definitively with "The Church" - especially in a negative way - is mistaken.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The words of the prophets...

... are written on the subway walls, according to Simon and Garfunkel. Now while I agree with the sentiment, I am not sure how "Paul loves Donna" can be translated into a meaningful word for me today. Maybe they had better quality graffitti artists.

In fact, I think the words of the prophets are more likely to be written by the songwriters and musicians today. Not all of them - oddly "I'm a Cheeky Girl" is not quite up there with the writings of Isaiah, but songwriters like Simon and Garfunkel, R.E.M., U2, Pink Floyd often produce poetic genius, meaningful song lyrics, accompanied by appropriate music - remember, the medium is the message, so the musical presentation is part of the prophetic words.

What really strikes me is that these messages are not very much like the "prophecies" we so often hear in church circles. The messages that these artists - and others, like Radiohead, The Verve - give is normally one of challenge, questioning, upsetting, not "God loves you really". A song like No Surprises, by Radiohead is intended to shock and kick - "A job that slowly kills you, bruises that won't heal ... A handshake of carbon monoxide" is a vivid portrait of the comfortable, middle class culture that the church is so often part of.

I suppose it all depends on what you understand a prophet to be. Because the Old Testament prophets were not people who told the future. They were people who told of the reality of the current. They gave a God's-eye view of what was going on. They refused to say "everything is OK" when it wasn't. They refused to say "everything is wrong" when it wasn't. All they did was say things as they were, give a wider perspective on how the world was.

Of course, not all songwriters are prophetic. Not all songs of a particular artist are prophetic. But for some, they are worth listening to, not for their good music, but because they are saying things that we need to hear. They are not the only prophets today - the world of entertainment provides others too, where "entertainers" can prod us and make us really consider issues that we need to think about. Comedy can do this particularly well. But drama is also a way into out conscience.

We need to retune our ears to hear the prophets. They were alsays very disturbing people in their community. They are today disturbing the church as they always have done.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Sex Education

A friend of mine was at an event where a church group of late teenagers were being given a talk about sex, by a guest speaker. The problem was, there was only really one question being addressed - sex before marriage. Now 25 years ago, this was probably about right, but the world has moved on. There are a whole lot of issues and questions that need to be addresses these days - of course, the young people did not actually raise these. What is more the session was very clearly putting the point that sex before marriage is wrong, rather than giving the young people some tools to think through the questions involved, and enable them to come to their own conclusions.

So I thought I would list my starting point on the questions I think should have been asked and discussed, along with where the answers should be directed.

Sex before marriage. Saving yourself is good.So is not judging others who go down a different route. Or yourself, if you get it wrong. Everyone gets stuff wrong, don't beat yourself up.

Sex outside marriage. Just don't. You have made promises and commitments, so stick by them. Otherwise it hurts people, badly.

Is giving head sex? Yes. It involves sexual stimulation, so it counts. Don't try to pretend that it doesn't count just because you want to give it a try.

What about anal sex? If you want to experiment, then do, But make sure that it is Safe, Sane and Consensual.And making sure that it really is consensual, not just acceptable. If it isn't then it is abuse or rape, or possibly both, so don't.

Is homosexuality acceptable? I am putting a whole new post together on this. So cover the topic as best you can in the time.

What about masturbation? I have no idea, but cover it, and get some views.

I am not saying that I have all of the answers. Or even all of the right questions - I would like to include something on STD and contraception in the chat around it. It just seems that a chance was lost to give some good rounded education on the area.

Now some people will argue that we don't need to open our young people up to all of this stuff. But I would bet that every issue on this list will be met by someone in the group - or any ordinary group - this year. Not by them personally on the whole, but by their friends, and they need to know that they can give answers. And for many of them - the older ones especially - it will be for them in the next 18+ months.

The problem is - and my core concern in this post - is that if we don't talk about these areas with our young people, then someone else will. If we do not address them, we pass over our chance to have a say. I am not prepared to do that.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Women Bishops

... are currently being debated in General Synod. There is a problem with accepting them, because there are parts of the church who find the idea to be completely unacceptable. There are some for whom accepting a woman as a bishop is beyond the realms of reasonableness. I don't have a problem with them as such, they have their point of view, and all points of view should be considered.

But there are also those in the church who have a problem with the way things are now. So why is it that there position is not taken into account as well? Why is it that the minority whose opinion must be considered is the minority who wants to retain the status quo? Why not the majority who want a change - why is it that they just have to accept the way things are, and the traditionalists don't have to accept that things change?

But I think the issue is more potent than that even. The church is, as has been said, an organisation for the benefit of the non-members. So why do we not let non-members have a majority say in what the church does? If we genuinely believe that church exists as a missionary organisation, as an organisation for others, as an organisation for the non-members, then why do we insist that the people who make the most important decisions are those who are the most churched people we can find?

I believe that we should ask those who are not members of the church to have their say in what we should do. I believe, actually, that we should involve those who are not members of the church in a whole lot of our decision making, at the local level as well - I am not just arguing for others only to have to work with this. And if we want to know whether we should have women bishops, how about asking the general populace, not just the synod.

Monday, 6 February 2012

That's not my God

How does God deal with sinners? Now I am not trying to be condemnatory of anyone, but this is everyone, because the bible makes it clear that we are all sinners, it is part of who we are. So how does God deal with sinners?

Well, of course, he forgives us.That is the starting point, I accept, but I am afraid that is not my God. It is great that God forgives me, don't misunderstand, but that gets me nowhere, because I keep sinning, again and again, and keep coming back for forgiveness. It makes no difference if the forgiveness makes no real change to me. Yes I really like the fact that God forgives me, but actually, it is nothing.

Ah, of course, God forgives us and gives us a new start. Sorry to sound ungrateful, but that's not my God. Now it is great that God forgives me, wipes the slate clean, and gives me a new start. Sadly, most other people are not so generous. In the world that I live in, I don't get a new start. If your "sin" - or failing to live up to the expected standards - means that you are pregnant, then there is not "new start", because you are still pregnant. If your failure to live up to expected standards means that you are permanantly injured, then you stay injured.

What is more, of course, people don't forgive you. You are still injured, damaged, and often you still get the prejudice or stigma that it involves. When I am forgiven and given a new start by God, I still have to live with the results of whatever I have done. You see, it is not really a new start - it is not a complete re-beginning wiping everything that has happened before. It is a re-start, or a re-vitalising.

Hang on, aren;t we promised that we are "born again"? Well yes, but that is what I mean. It is a rebirth in the spirit, and I am renewed from inside, as a new, spiritually refreshed person. Who is, nonetheless, still broken, sinful, damaged. And as far as other people see, I still have that damage. I love being born again, but I would also like to start again without the baggage from the past.

So what does God actually do? The most exciting and wonderful thing is that God accepts me. The forgiveness, the new birth, are wonderful to have. But the astounding thing is that even as a sinner, even as a broken perons, even as a damaged individual, God accepts me.

All I now need is for people too as well.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The power of the internet

I was just listening to "The One Show", with a piece about rhino horn, and the increasing problems of poaching. Apparently, a rumour started that some vietnamese official had been cured of cancer by taking rhino horn. However, the evidence is that this is jsut an urban myth - there is no no evidence that there is any truth behind this. And yet the result of this myth is that dozens of rhino are dying and being injured, for a lump of fingernail.

The reality is that rhino horn does not have any medical benefit. It is, in essence,  fingernail writ large. So if you think it will do you some good, try biting your nails instead - cheaper and less damaging to the species. The myth has no substance, so all of these rhinos are dying and being hurt for no value. One of the things we should have learnt over the last decade or so is that the ecological diversity of our planet is something very precious and special, that we cannot affort to damage. Everything from big ugly animals like rhinos, to little ugly ones like bugs are part fo a delicate system - it is not just the cute animals that need help.

However, the driver behind this is an internet rumour. Someone somewhere made up a story - either for fun or, more likely I believe, maliciously - and sent it to someone. It spread to other people, and across the world, reaching millions of people. And this story drives the demand for rhino horn as a medicinal product, and so rhinos are dying for a story. Tragic though the increase in poaching is, the global impact of a story made up by someone is fascinating. We no longer live in a world alone, because ideas we have in our own little houses can reach - and change the world.

The Christian story is a very simple tale at heart. It was originally written nearly 2000 years ago, but even today, it has the power to change the world. The stories of people who have encountered God have the power to change the world. There are so many scams, tragedy and ridiculous stories spread about, and yet the greatest story of all is so often not spread. If done properly, it will continue to change the world.