Church · Church of England · religion · sexuality · spirituality

Face Palm: Sex, lies and the Church

I read with dismay the headlines of today’s papers and immediately started to write of the CofE’s response to Same Sex Marriage as another anglican face-palm.  Then I read the actual report and found that, though perhaps unwise in tone, there was much in it that is thoughtful and considered. Though I have some questions about the conclusions it supposes.  I am also less than impressed with the government’s consultation document and proposed legislation – it is rushed and fails to address adequately the issues surrounding what marriage actually is.

I’ve avoided blogging about same-sex marriage so far because I am far from decisive in my view and frankly while it has potentially important impacts on my role as vicar it is in my view not the most important issue for the Church today.

But it IS an issue and it’s one that we need to engage with particularly as we have a less than glorious reputation and history in our ‘loving’ service of the gay community.

Personally I am struggling with the dichotomy of being generally theologically conservative and my Christ-like call to be loving unconditionally. My heart sinks at the hurt we’ve inflicted on the LGBT community through our actions corporately as a Church. But I also hold a core value of trying to obey scriptural teaching and understanding.

Although I’ve always considered myself on the more conservative theological side of the river I am beginning to be really challenged by the Holy Spirit in many of my once certain views.  I am no longer convinced that the call to love doesn’t trump out other values and teachings. I am challenged and re-challenged as to what Christ’s response would be and how his declaration :

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39

should shape our interaction with the world.

At the same time I am being challenged by the concept of an institutionalised Church at all (bear with me here, it is connected) that we are following a model of Church that is both broken and outmoded. Based on the creation of Christendom and fundamentally flawed in how it can serve  our society today. (I’ve been composing a blog post on this for a number of weeks now and may well post it when I am more settled about its content). I think the debate on same-sex marriage and the ridiculous shenanigans over female bishops highlight the issue of a broken church model unlike any other debates we are having. I am less and less convinced that we should be being governed by a central body that decides policy on these things and less and less convinced there is actually a right answer at all.

Actually if our job as believers is to love God with all our hearts and to love others as our selves and to share the gospel so other may know God then it is just possible that behaviour and our lifestyles are actually of no-ones concern but something between God and oneself.  That the church has no business sanctioning or wading in on these issues – partly because there is actually no right way.  I know the issues in my life that are not godly and should not be part of my lifestyle.  In the 18 years I have been a believer God has dealt with each in his timing and according to his agenda.  So it is with all believers.  It maybe that a homosexual lifestyle is something that would not be God’s perfect plan then again it maybe that all God has no particular view on and our understanding of scripture needs a rethink. But I suspect most of all that it is up to the Holy Spirit to deal with the issues that are important in our lives on an individual basis.

I wonder if what God asks of us is that we can stand before him and hand on heart declare our willingness to submit to him and let him work in our life according to his agenda.

And here I find myself wondering if I am uncomfortably liberal about this: I wonder if actually there is no right answer on the issue of sexuality, if for some people God does want to challenge for his own reasons, and for others he does not wish to.  Just as some heterosexual behaviour and attitudes are not healthy for us and God would want to deal with and for others he doesn’t.  Is our primary call actually to holiness before God in all our relationships sexual or otherwise.

Can I, hand-on-heart say that is how I come to God?

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13 thoughts on “Face Palm: Sex, lies and the Church

  1. Thank you. You know me well enough from my tweets etc to know I come at many social, personal and cultural matters from a liberal/radical perspective. However, I am moved by your genuine, honest grappling with tensions which I suspect any authentic Christian has to deal with. May the Spirit continue to move within you as I pray s/he moves within me. x

  2. Your not being liberal. You’re being scriptural. The church is a big club these days and a lack of leadership for fear of affronting the membership has led to this situation. The institution is for itself and not Christ sadly. Something I have personal experience of. God will bless your lack of judgement of others because Christ tells us to avoid judging others. Don’t stop wrestling with your thoughts. You are on the right and righteous path.

  3. I very much appreciate this post, which helpfully digests the debate and takes it away from all the posturing we saw yesterday. Your thoughts strike a chord with me & I suspect a lot of others, and it might not be too much to say that you are moving us towards a future point of consensus.

    I do agree with your crisp assessment of the C of E report. “Unwise in tone”, absolutely, leaving it exposed to the sort of criticism we saw yesterday. However the content deserves a hearing and it was unfair to suggest the church was trying to “dictate” the outcome, and other such silly comments.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Charlie. I agree about the report, it has important things to say and though I don’t wholly concur, I feel it has been misrepresented too.

  4. ‘A future point of consensus’ – a deliverance devoutly to be wished. Anyone who can lead us in that direction has not only my support, but I am guessing that of a lot of other members of the Church of England as well.

  5. Excellent measured response – I would expect nothing less!

    I’ve come to believe that every Christian has a liberal heart. Often this appears in the way that despite their differences, people deal with each other on a personal level. But in public life it’s too often buried deep under the false burden of feeling that we have to somehow try to stick up for God.

  6. I have always said live & let live, however marriage, according to the prayer book, is for the procreation of children. OK I’m old fashioned and I’m really not sure what to think on this.

    1. I think I broadly agree with you. My understanding of same sex partners is changing’
      , but I am still working through what impact that should have on ‘marriage’. I’m not wholly convinced that there is an inequality in having civil partnerships and marriage as dual values. But perhaps as a straight guy I’m not equipped to see the inequality? My views and more conservative interpretations of scripture when it comes to issues in human sexuality continue to evolve, I hope through the work of the spirit!

    2. Much as I love the prayer book, as a society haven’t we gone past the idea that the only valid reason to marry is to procreate? I think marriage is entirely useful from that point of view, because it provides a framework within which we can adequately care for children, but the idea that if you can’t have children you have no business getting married seems odd these days. Even a different-sex couple can sometimes know at the time of getting married, that they won’t be able to have (or even just wont be having) children for one of many reasons, and nobody would suggest that they shouldn’t bother getting married.

  7. I don’t think the central issue is the definition of the marriage. It’s the refusal of the church hierarchy to countenance the blessing of same-sex sexual relationships in church in any form whatsoever. I think is a pressing issue because of the suffering it must cause to those who are effectively being treated as second-class members of the Body.

    1. Again I think I agree in many ways, perhaps highlighting my fuzzy thinking here. As my understanding is winnowed on these issues I find myself much more open to the blessing of same sex partnerships, I think there are many issues with regard to marriage & sexuality. However I am more and more convinced that we are confusing holiness and marriage. The call to the former more important than the latter?

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