Thursday, December 15, 2005


The BBC had a special news feature on ‘filling the pews’ (or emptying them!) in London yesterday. The first section focussed on the sexuality argument, with the Anglican Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, on film, and the Rev Joel Edwards (head of the Evangelical Alliance) and my esteemed colleague Jonathan Bartley from Ekklesia (pictured) in the studio. You can watch it via dial-up or broadband here until the end of the week – the first segment is straight after the weather forecast, appropriately enough. Hmmnnn... What was that Gospel saying about “the Spirit blows where it wills, and we know not where it comes from or where it goes”?

Anyway, it is a good encounter between Jon and Joel. Of course the stock premise of the interview, the interviewer and the film that precedes it is that those who oppose affirming lesbian and gay people in the church must have the Bible on their side, and that those who are inclusive must want to throw it out. Similarly, the media ‘script’ says that all evangelicals are on one side, and the ‘other side’ is made up of people called ‘liberals’.

Rooted in the radical discipleship tradition, one of the things we try to do on Ekklesia is to upset these false and settled assumptions. As on slavery, women, peace and war and much else, the issue is not about knock-down arguments buttressing unassailed rightness. It is about how Christians interpret their texts and traditions (and each other), how they are persuaded – and how they often discover that what they thought was ‘plain’ is actually more demanding than the first or surface reading suggests. That is, it concerns not only our theories about "received wisdom", but how we live and with what kind of responsiveness to the transcendent down-to-earthness of God.

Faithful reading and re-reading in context, through evolving communal understanding, critical reflection, and seeking the way of Jesus in the light of the Spirit isn’t, therefore, some “modern fad” or “easy option”. It’s actually the procedure of traditional Christianity, before that term was hijacked by what David Jenkins calls “certainty wallahs”, and by a fundamentalist refusal of the openness of the text – a stance which actually owes more to dogmatic nineteenth century rationalism than to the God of the Bible who is revealed in the vulnerability of flesh, narrative and sacrifical love.

It is this traditioned view (as I would put it, to distinguish from the rejectionist variety) which leads many of us to believe that the exclusion of gay people from full participation as baptised members of the Body of Christ is not just wrong on grounds of some abstract contemporary notion of rights, but wrong as a statement about the identity of Jesus' companions and the way this identity is apprehended in the prophetic biblical tradition -- which speaks of a changing future, not a fixed past. Not that it’s easy to put that into a sound-bite on TV. But Jonathan always does a pretty good job of it, I reckon.

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