Saturday, 31 May 2014

Why I Hold the Views I Do


St. Hilda's Collegiate School, taken with my phone after a recent meeting. This picture has nothing whatsoever to do with what follows, but I like the interplay of shapes and particularly the shadow on the wall.

My mother is a Methodist, liberal in her theological and social opinions. My father was a socialist, just slightly to the left, in his politics, of Karl Marx. My siblings -there are 5 of us- are all bright, eloquent and omnivorous in their consumption of books and other intellectual fodder.  One of my most cherished childhood memories is of mealtimes in our little state house. The food was ingested with copious amounts of spirited, opinionated, clever and sometimes informed debate on whatever subject happened to catch the attention of one of the family that day. Or whatever one of us thought might get a rise out of someone else. So, sex, politics and religion it was then - oh and motorbikes, economics, international relations, demographics, cricket, company ownership, the utter iniquity of the National Party... you know, the usual run of family conversations.

We sometimes got heated but never came to blows, and there were some basic family ground rules, originating with our parents, about acceptable opinions. In politics we were left (naturally) and we were, I now realise, fairly progressive on things like race relations and women's rights. And on matters of sexual orientation. I can't remember as a family actually having any gay friends and acquaintances but we accepted "that's the way some people are" and we had a family abhorrence of disadvantaging anyone for something outside of their control. Actually, the question of whether or not it was outside of their control probably occupied us for a few hours when roast mutton and boiled spuds were being passed around.

When I was old enough to be under the sway of the testosterone washing round my body, I knew which way my own orientation lay; I didn't make any choices about that, any more I suspect than anyone else does. I knew that I was a raging heterosexual. I cannot remember even once being even remotely attracted to a man, so it was all quite simple for me; homosexuality was something other people did, so what business was it of mine to ever get steamed up - in any way - about it?

After my conversion to Christianity in 1973 I attended churches where social and theological views were decidedly conservative, but on this matter I simply couldn't find the energy to muster the required amount of indignation. I've had the Biblical case for regarding homosexual behaviour as sinful presented to me many times, but somehow it just doesn't wash, any more than the Biblical case for the sinfulness of eating pork or that for preventing women from speaking in church.

So why do I hold the views I do? I would have thought that by now the answer to that question would be pretty obvious. Because that's the way I was raised, that's why. It's not just that for all the formative years of my life I had a pretty thorough apprenticeship in liberal humanism, but also that my personality type, my life experience, my ways of ingesting and processing information all predispose me to think the things I think and believe the things I believe.

It is my opinion that this is true for what most of us think, about most things, most of the time. Of course we pretend this isn't the case. We, all of us, talk and think as though we are blank slates and that out of all the various options on any subject we have chosen (how wise of us!) the stance that is most obviously right and correct. Of course we have some free will as to our opinions, but I think it operates in fairly constrained limits.

I am a convinced Christian but if I had been born in Saudi Arabia instead of New Zealand I would doubtlessly be a mullah instead of a priest, or a Buddhist monk if I had been born in Tibet or Thailand. And if I had been born into a different family or had a brain wired in a marginally different way or for reasons far outside of my control had a different experience of life I would in all likelihood be a theological and social conservative. And of course in each of these conditions I would believe in the rightness of my position and argue vigorously for it, backing my opinions with sound arguments and irrefutable scriptural authority.

My opinions are largely not chosen, they are circumstantial. But then again, so are everyone else's. So here we go in the church ripping ourselves apart over an issue in which we all are more or less predisposed to hold the views we do. Which is not what the Holy Spirit calls us to. Christ calls me into discipleship; that is, into closer and closer union with God. This does NOT mean that I must conform myself more and more closely to the one righteous Godly position on any given subject (even if I fondly like to believe that the righteous position is the one I already hold). It means rather, that God leads me, everyday, to understand more and more fully what I think and how I react. But more importantly, God painstakingly and patiently leads me to understand why I think and react the way I do. This place of understanding is the place of real freedom. It's only here that I have real choices about how I believe and how I act on those beliefs.

47 comments:

Brian R said...

Thank you Kelvin for your honesty.
I had some ideas of your views from reading your blog in the years before I came to live in Dunedin and it was one of the many reasons I chose Dunedin, a choice I still consider the best I have ever made.
My concern is for those like me who grew up in a conservative, evangelical church and, in those days, a conservative society. Fortunately my mother and sister, despite many difficulties, allowed their love to override what they were taught.
It is devastating to be told that one’s sexual feelings are both illegal and sinful especially when in all other aspects of life you are morally upright and feel a vocation towards the church.
Prayer and psychiatric treatment (fortunately I never experienced the worst aspect of this now totally invalidated) were unsuccessful. Some say we should seek a life of celibacy but, with exceptions, I believe this often leads to a miserable, bitter, unfulfilled life. Celibacy should be a choice not an imposition.
After a long struggle I have come to believe God loves me as He created me.
My concern is for young people, like me, in the church today. In my day several close to me chose suicide. Today young people can find acceptance in much of society outside the church and see role models in all walks of life. These are difficult to find within the church where gay people generally keep their head down. The discussion at synod was in private but I wonder if anyone openly admitted their homosexuality in the debate.
This is why some say my own blog comes across as very angry as I try to influence change to a church that will openly welcome young LGBT people as full members who do not need to keep their relationship quiet.

Eric said...

Hi Brian,
Thanks for this

Just as brief comment as one of those who was there
Nothing was hidden. One of the gifts of the church here is everybody knows everybody as we are small. It's not a church you can hide in, which is at once threatening, but as always in honesty of encounter potentially liberating.

From the outset the conversation - and it was conversation not formal debate - was deep rich, and full of integrity and honesty (sometimes painfully so, for those of opinions and orientations)

Blessings
Eric

Wynston said...

Oh, how much I relished those family discussions around the table in my youth. It was where I developed the basis of my opinions and beliefs also. Unfortunately it seems that in many households today little such discussion occurs which is a great loss.

Kelvin Wright said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply Brian. Often I have reflected back on the anguish of adolescence - the sometimes overwhelming impulses, the falling desperately in love, the sheer embarrassment of my body, the social ineptitude- and how it was all focused in the particular agonies of asking girls out. The fear of rejection was magnified in a school environment where everyone knew who fancied who else, and there was nowhere to hide if she said no. ( and where the problems were only slightly less if she said yes) And I think of how hard it was, and how infinitely harder it must have been for the gay kids in my class who risked utter ostracism and rejection not to say physical violence and, at that time, the wrath of the law if they dared let their particular cat out of the bag. For the most part they kept their struggles private though I can remember one poor tortured soul who could not.

Over the course of my ministry I have dealt with a few teen suicides and in some memorable ones sexual orientation was a key factor.

I hope we have turned a corner in that regard. I am hopeful that we can maintain the unity of the church and still allow people to retain personal dignity and integrity. I am always a bit surprised when I hear fellow Christians unthinkingly and casually condemn people they don't know to a life of celibacy when they themselves would be utterly incapable of bearing such a burden. But I am optimistic we can stop doing that.

Rosemary Behan said...

I thank God that Bishop Kelvin is sure that GBLT folk are part of the church, I am too. However, as a failed heterosexual, I’m so glad that God has made it clear what He wants for us for our best, and I cannot see that God wants GBLT folk to declare their nature as God given and therefore right, and something the church should celebrate or bless. I find I cannot ask the church to bless my failures, massive though they are.

I break the first and greatest commandment before I lift my head from my pillow every morning, and I need to repent of that every morning. I do not wake up, throw my hands in the air and say, “I love you God the Father.” Rather I wake up and wonder where my husband is with my cup of tea. Or worse, I reach for my cigarette’s. That is the first and greatest commandment that I have broken before I start my day. Certainly makes for deep thinking. Certainly lets me know that I am a sinner who is in desperate need of God’s forgiveness every single day. If we say in the place of God that we cannot imagine that God means what He says .. well we’re ignoring Him, and what He says He wants for our best. Sorry, this sinner and failed heterosexual says, “ No can do.” I cannot live without His forgiveness and mercy.

Kelvin Wright said...

I pretty much agree with all you say here, Rosemary. There is one small point I might not agree on, but it is a crucial one. Is homosexuality a "failing"?

I can't see how it can be. It isn't chosen, so there is no failure. Ask yourself: when did you choose to be heterosexual? If there was indeed no choice involved; if it just came to you unbidden from the time of your adolescence then where is the virtue in it? I could just as legitimately claim the moral high ground because I have blue eyes.

Now to regard a homosexual orientation as a failure requires a subtext - that homosexuality is a really attractive option, and given the even handed choice of what to be attracted to (which is of course an absurd statement, but bear with me)I choose same gender attraction in defiance of all that is Godly and proper.

Twice I have buried young men who killed themselves because they were gay. Their same gender attraction was so fraught, so devastating to them that they couldn't bear to live any more. So why not just do the sensible thing, I hear you ask, and switch preference? Because they couldn't, that's why and believe me, both of them tried. I wonder if you could point out to me their failure, because blowed if I can see it. Only pain and tragedy. And completely avoidable pain and tragedy at that.

Rosemary Behan said...

“ I pretty much agree with all you say here, Rosemary. There is one small point I might not agree on, but it is a crucial one. Is homosexuality a "failing"?”

To those who call on God’s mercy and forgiveness yes. Just as all my failures and fallenness, which I might equally say I was born with, lead me to my knees, crying in pain and saying, even screaming, but Lord, you made me this way. It’s no excuse when I stand before Him, does what He says count or not? How are we to KNOW we are sinful and in need of Grace and Forgiveness? Are we to hope in what Our Lord Jesus has done or not?

“Twice I have buried young men who killed themselves because they were gay. Their same gender attraction was so fraught, so devastating to them that they couldn't bear to live any more. So why not just do the sensible thing, I hear you ask, and switch preference? Because they couldn't, that's why and believe me, both of them tried. I wonder if you could point out to me their failure, because blowed if I can see it. Only pain and tragedy. And completely avoidable pain and tragedy at that.”

Totally avoidable, completely. If when I visit the islands I can see so many GLBT brothers and sisters completely accepted for what they are, what they were born to be .. then I know that I too, equally a sinner, can be accepted there too. The fault I would hesitantly suggest, is with the church, the institution that has made them so unwelcome for so many years. If they knew the REAL me, they would make me unwelcome too. We are sinners ALL. Calling something right and good, doesn’t make it so in the eyes of God. If that were so, I could easily vindicate my own existence, then I wouldn’t need Jesus would I?

Kelvin Wright said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply, Rosemary. Just one small point before I respond. You speak of LGBT people being accepted in the Islands, by which I assume you mean the Pacific Islands. You did know, didn't you that homosexual activity is illegal in The Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, The Solomons, Tonga and Tuvalu? It's true that many Pacific cultures have an accepted place for gay people, but unfortunately the influence of conservative Christianity over the last Century or so has all but destroyed that in many places, and led to a situation which is conflicted and paradoxical.

There seems to me to be a fundamental contradiction in what you say. You speak of the necessity of making LGBT people welcome in the church and yet you speak of sexual orientation as if it is a sin, to be repented as is any sin. How can a person be welcome if something fundamental to them (their sexuality) and unchangeable is regarded this way and spoken of as such.
I can't imagine how a gay person would feel at home in a church like that. An older person with a partner or a younger person embarking on the perilous adventures of finding a partner -dating, forming relationships, breaking up, forming new ones, experimenting with sex,finding out how to relate intimately. All of us who don't want to live alone have undertaken this journey at one stage and in one way or another. As the gay people in your congregation did this, would they be accepted? Encouraged? Rejoiced with?

You speak of coming before the throne of grace and being smitten with guilt (my words, not yours) for our manifold sins and weaknesses. Yes. Of course. As my friend Marcus Arden was fond of saying "if you don't feel unclean in the presence of God then there's not much of it there". But guilt and remorse over things that are not within our ability to change isn't spirituality, it's common or garden variety neurosis. And here's the trouble: an intolerant (even if that intolerance is unintentional) Christianity clinging to a literalist interpretation of a few Biblical passages encourages neurosis instead of freeing people from it.

We, each of us are dealt a certain hand of cards at the beginning of our lives. These immutable things are what we are given to play the great game with, and no amount of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth will induce the Almighty to shuffle the pack and redeal. Amongst these are of course, our physical characteristics, our gender, probably our intelligence level, our potential sporting prowess and a thousand things beside. There are also personality characteristics - whether or not we are introverted or extraverted, our propensity for depression or other pathologies, and many others. Sexual orientation is also one of these immutable characteristics which arrives with us in the delivery room already formed.

Now the question I think God is interested in is not so much what the deal has given into our hand but how we play the game. And if one of the cards in our hand is same gender preference, you seem to be saying our choices in the game are lifelong aloneness or perhaps, after our culture, family and church have done their work,the horrors of a hypocritical, forced and miserable heterosexual union. Or have I got you wrong on this point?
If this is what you're saying, then I disagree with you.

Basset horn said...

Hello, Kelvin,
This is the first half of a comment which is apparently too long to be included as a unit.
The second half will follow.
My name is Brock Lupton. I am a retired priest of the Anglican Church of Canada. I have actually posted a comment to your blog in the past, but this was well over a year ago, as far as I can recall.
In response to your blog of May 31, 2014 at 2220, I have comparatively recent experience with an Anglican priest in the diocese where I live, who adheres quite literally to the dictum that women must keep silent in church. He adheres to it to the point that a woman deacon in the diocese is not welcome as a preacher or even as a gospel reader in that congregation.
This experience revived my thinking about a position which I had hoped would no longer find any support, at least in the Anglican church.
The outstanding biblical verse is, presumably, 1 Timothy 2.11-12.
11Let a woman* learn in silence with full submission. 12I permit no woman* to teach or to have authority over a man;* she is to keep silent. [NRSV]
NRSV suggests that “woman” and “man” in this passage may be translated respectively as “wife” and “husband”.
It is often accepted, as you know, that Paul almost certainly did not write the two letters to Timothy. Rather, one of his followers used the practice (apparently acceptable in that era) of writing in his name. The question of authorship, however, does not seem to me to affect the content of the text, nor its presumed authority for Christians.
Paul himself appointed at least one woman to a leadership role, or sanctioned her appointment:
“161I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints.” (Romans 16.1)
NRSV offers the alternative translation as “minister” rather than “deacon”.
Lastly, I need to put forward the following about the role of the deacon.
62[T]he twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 8Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. [Acts 6.2-10]
If we accept that Stephen is the prototype of the role of deacon, then the following may establish that the deacon is authorized to proclaim the word as well as to “wait on tables”. The deacon, it seems reasonable to say, is one who speaks with authority.
If Phoebe is authorized to proclaim the word in the assembly of believers, how do we square this with the injunction that women must be silent?


Brock Lupton
Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada

Basset horn said...

Hello again, Kelvin,
This is the second part of my comment about women's silence in church.
I have a theory on this score. I would greatly value your knowledgeable opinion as to whether or not it is factually well-founded and theologically reasonable.
It’s my understanding that Paul, and other early leaders of “the Way”, often taught in synagogues, where both Jews and “godfearers” (followers of the God of the Hebrews, but not themselves Jews) would gather. Very early Christian adherents and seekers, it seems, were also drawn to these gatherings.
In traditional Jewish gatherings, the women sat on one side, the men on the other. Men were often educated, whereas women may have been in many cases less educated and unable to read or write. Given the foregoing, I postulate that women were more likely than men were to be confused by the content of the message proclaimed by Paul and other early christian leaders. Suppose, then (and this is pure speculation) that, during the meeting, a woman hears something from the preacher and doesn’t understand. She calls across the assembly to her husband on the other side, asking him to explain what has just been said. Or perhaps she has her own ideas and calls across to tell him what she thinks.
One can imagine a leader, in such a situation, being exasperated into writing the following (these are Paul’s words)
(As in all the churches of the saints, 34women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (Romans 16.33b-35)
The speculation I am proposing does seem particularly consistent with Romans 16.35.
What’s your insight on all this?
Thank you.

Brock Lupton

Bryden Black said...

There seems to be something rather curious occurring here. Re “the cards we are dealt with”: well; are we or are we not in a fallen creation? The basic tenet of the Christian Faith is that the world into which we humans are born is somehow really rather ambivalent. From the opening texts of the Bible, as well as subsequent ‘reading strategies’ of Israel’s own Story Line, I have to conclude creation, as we experience it - including our own human being - is both essentially good and yet fundamentally flawed, simultaneously. The etymology of both qualifiers is crucial however: “essential” comes from the Latin esse/to be, while “fundamental” from the Latin fundus/deep. These are not synonymous. Sadly, the history of theology has oftentimes run into problems when their relationship is not carefully teased out: views like dualism, or naturalism eventuate. It seems to me that here part of the miscommunication among us has to do with a failure to attend more carefully to a robust enough Christian anthropology.

How this then plays out pastorally, with folk who might deem themselves homosexual, or say bipolar, or spastic due to a palsy - all seemingly involuntary - has much to do with our understandings of such an anthropology. Of course, if we view things differently, if we really rather view bipolar or homosexuality as both natural, then why indeed ‘condemn’ certain forms of behaviour, why not simply ‘express’ such ‘conditions’?

PS: I have been forced to couch this comment this way, since I have encountered some people who have taken their own lives due to their being bipolar, as well as others who were homosexual, and others again who were seriously spastic. It seems none of them could, in the end, endure their various ‘afflictions’ as they perceived and experienced them.

PPS: I have also encountered, on those seemingly rare occasions when the Good Lord sees fit to grant us a genuine “sign”, in the Johannine sense, a miracle of genetic recreation: e.g. a Down’s syndrome person whose ‘condition’ was utterly healed - this side of the Parousia.

All in all, I am not sure we are yet asking quite the right set of questions, which is resulting in our probably setting up a really rather skewed form of ‘answers’.

Bryden Black, Christchurch

Kelvin Wright said...

Brydon I agree we are in a fallen creation, though I suspect you and I might have interestingly paradoxical theologies of the fall.

I don't like the equation of homosexuality and mental illness; 351 people read this blog yesterday, and a further 260 or so today. I know that a good number of those people, eavesdropping on this conversation, are LGBT and I think might have found that equation quite wounding: yet another example of the church's true attitude to them.

But there is some accuracy i9n your parallel, and that is that sexuality, like mental illness or a condition like Cerebral Palsy is not chosen, but comes to us as one of the cards dealt. It's amazing that you know someone "cured" of a serious genetic condition, but that isn't the case for many others.

Those that live with such conditions have no choice but to express them, and live out their lives within the strictures that their condition entails. The church should and does accept such people. But let me suggest the following as an entirely inappropriate pastoral response to someone with bipolar disorder:

"Welcome to St. Kelvin's! We're glad to have you here even though you are bipolar. We love the sinner, ie you, but hate the sin,ie your bipolarity, which is in fact an abomination to the Lord, as these scriptures will inarguably show you. While you are welcome in our church, we ask you not to practice your bipolarity here. Futhermore until such time as you repent of your bipolarity and begin living the nonbipolar life God intended for you we cannot allow you to exercise any form of leadership in the church. After all, we have young people here, and you know what those bipolar people get up to! And your example might cause some of our young people to (God forbid!) be led into a bipolar lifestyle. As well, should you wish to marry here in our beautiful building, the answer will be, of course, no. In fact, probably best if you remain celibate for the rest of your life. But we love you in the Lord."

Ridiculous huh? But it's the message given to gay people in thousands of churches every week from one end of our country to the other.

Kelvin Wright said...

Interesting thought Brock, and possibly right. We have a member of our diocese whose PhD was in gender relationships in the first century church. I'll ask her to read your comment and possibly respond. But I have sometimes thought, with no way to back this up, that the basis of Paul's (or whoever else it was) injunction was actually the fact that in the first century little Jewish boys were educated and little Jewish girls were not.

I think you are right that it is a dangerous practice to take Biblical verses out of context and apply them blindly without regard for their historical and textual context.

Anonymous said...

Rosemary here, but Google won't let me sign in

Yes I know Homosexuality is illegal in the islands. Speaks well of them doesn’t it that they are accepted there .. but as you point out, the church is conflicted. Funny, you would have hoped that the church would be the most welcoming place of all .. after all, we’re all sinners.

Yes I do speak of the gay lifestyle as a sin. You used the words ‘sexual orientation’ .. but in my opinion, that isn’t a sin. I didn’t make that up, that’s what the Bible says, and I’m not game to cross it, never mind .. as you do .. say that the Bible is wrong. Of course it’s not the fault of any GBLT person, it’s also not my fault I was born with my genetic heritage. However, because I can [well nearly always] hide my faults and failures, I’m welcome and they are not. What is just about that? It’s my opinion that you double that fault when you imply that the homosexual lifestyle is good and right .. so those poor folk are yet again misled by the church into thinking that that particular sin is not something they need to repent of .. every day as I should. Of course it’s a very minor sin .. it doesn’t compare to ignoring God or not putting Him first which I have already confessed to .. shrug!!!

“But guilt and remorse over things that are not within our ability to change isn't spirituality, it's common or garden variety neurosis.”

I’m quite sure you could make a case that I’m neurotic, and find any number of supporters too. The Apostle Paul must have been too, but again, I’m sure you could find a lot of supporters for that too! Perhaps he wrote Romans chapter 7, verses 14 to 25 not in the will of God? But it resonates with me. The real freedom in Jesus isn’t freedom ‘from.’ It isn’t even freedom ‘for.’ It’s the freedom to choose to obey. The fact that I find it very easy to obey certain things, and simply cannot obey others [because I was born that way] means I must plead for Grace and His mercy, and put my trust in Jesus, who knows it all. If any of us are saying anything other than that .. then you’re right, we must disagree.

Kelvin Wright said...

Thanks Rosemary. Your reply is, as usual heartfelt and honest. I guess that's actually the point I was trying to make. I know that you are coming from a position of faithfulness to the Biblical witness, and that your integrity would be compromised if you took a view other than the one you do.

But what I would hope is that you see my view as also founded in scripture. You say that I say the Bible is wrong. That's not exactly the point. I gave my life to Christ in 1973, was baptised by pastor Peter Morrow and attended the New Life Centre Church, which was great, but it wasn't long before I had my first crisis of faith. My church taught that there was a universal flood that covered the highest mountain - ie was 30,000 feet deep if it was to cover Everest. I was, at the time a Geography teacher and knew that to be balderdash. So what was I to do? I continued with the Christian faith long after most of the many people converted around the same time as me fell away - on just these grounds - because I came to a realisation about scripture. For me the question is not so much "is the Bible the Word of God?" but rather "HOW is the Bible the Word of God, considering that sometimes the Bible is in error?" And it is. One small example. In 1 Samuel 17 we have the story of David and Goliath in which we are told, graphically, that David killed Goliath. And yet in 2 Samuel 21:19, we are told it was Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim of Bethlehem who killed Goliath. In 1 Chronicles 20:5 we are told that Elhanan (his father's name is changed in 1 Chronicles) killed, not Goliath, but Goliath's brother. Incidentally, this contradicts the record in 1 Samuel 21 of who killed Goliath's brother. Clearly not all these statements can be correct, and therefore at one point of another the Bible record is in error. Closer to the core of our faith, read the four accounts of the resurrection and answer these questions: Who went to the tomb? What did they see there? You will get four answers.

In my study of Hebrew I was constantly brought face to face with the fragility and tentativeness of much of the Biblical record. But my lived experience is that this very flawed and human book contains the Word of God. But I have had to respond to it in a far more demanding way than just taking the text at face value. Reading the Bible is demanding work but it is life giving.

So my position on the place of LGBT people comes not because I have the luxury of ignoring the Bible, but because I believe that this is the position the Bible impels me to take. I cannot forsake my stance on this matter without also forsaking the scripture and Christ who speaks through scripture.

Now here's the tragedy. Our church is in grave danger of ripping itself apart (and that would be in absolute defiance of the prayer of Jesus) because people -fellow Christians - approach the same Bible, prayerfully consider it, and come up with mutually exclusive conclusions. I say that the inner reasons which impel us to take those conclusions are largely unconscious and largely out of our control. I say that God calls us to another path on this matter and that is the path which, praise God, the General Synod, acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit, has embarked upon

Anonymous said...



Hi Kelvin,
I am a little confused. ( I know you knew that already but….) in a post a few days ago you speak about repentance as thinking again, but in this post you seem to be saying the way you think/ I think about things is predetermined by our upbringing etc.
So can we change or not?
I find myself wondering about your description of metanoia and its focus on thinking. This is no doubt part of the Hebrew background to this Greek word. There is another equally important aspect of repentance ( again flowing from its Hebrew root) meaning to turn around, a complete change of direction and motivation for ones life - to convert even.
Does this have bearing on our sexuality and the way it gets expressed?

Stu

Kelvin Wright said...

Good question, Stu. Metanoia means literally "to think after" or think again. Jesus' call is not, as we so often present it, to remorse and steeling ourselves up to do better next time, but to examine the basis of our actions in the motives and beliefs we have acquired and are usually only dimly- if at all- aware of. Jesus' call is to self knowledge.

The basis of sin is ignorance; ignorance of ourselves and ignorance of others and ignorance of God. If we persist in our ignorance then we will be doomed to endlessly repeat the mistakes and do the harm that our great suite of unknown inner motivations drives us to. This is the situation of being trapped in our own futile behaviours that Paul so memorably describes in Romans 6 and 7 as being slaves of sin, and of not being able to do what we know, in the deepest parts of ourselves, to be right. " who will deliver me from this body of death?" he asks. "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord..."

No, in answer to your question, we can't change our behaviours very easily if at all because they are based on all sorts of inner information, fears, motivations etc which have come from beyond us and which we don't know about and can't control. Jesus, though, comes to show us God. He demonstrates to us, in his life, teaching, death and resurrection the true pattern of the Universe which is at variance with the limited and broken idea of the universe we carry around with us. He demonstrates the truth of what he is saying in his resurrection from the dead, and simultaneously shows us that even the worst of the inner fears which hold us captive- pain and rejection and even death itself - are limited and defeated by the light of God. He gives us, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the possibility of thinking again, that is of seeing and understanding ourselves clearly and thus the possibility of real and lasting change.

To accept the gift of this knowledge means we will be changed. Part of what the sermon on the mount is about is a description of what that change will look like. Unfortunately Jesus forgot to mention sexuality, except to denounce divorce, so I'm not able to answer your last question.

Anonymous said...

Morning Kelvin,
I agree with you that we find if very hard to change. In fact the sin you mention makes it nigh on impossible to change apart from the grace of God which, as you rightly describe comes to us in Jesus- but what of his call on our lives.
Does Jesus call us to self knowledge or self denial? Certainly in calling the first disciples it was the latter( Mat 16:24 etc). I really think this call goes deeper than knowledge, to even ‘losing our life’ for Jesus sake. That's where I would want to explore a deeper definition of repentance, that plumbs not only our mind, or what we know but our heart our soul our very being that Paul describes so accurately as being corrupted by sin.
Praise God that the image of God is there waiting to be revealed(Rom 7:22), but this is where I find God's word so vital in the redemptive work of sanctification.
Far be it from me to challenge you on your assessment of scripture as being a ‘ very flawed and human book’ but I wonder if I may invite you to ‘think again’ about the bible. I have just read another Anglican bishop’s thoughts on this matter; N T Wright’s very helpful book 'Scripture and the Authority of God'. He makes the wonderful comment that “writing a book about the bible is like building a sandcastle in front of the Matterhorn”!
I'm pretty keen to look to the hills for my help.

Stu

Kelvin Wright said...

Last night Father Ron Smith made the following comment, which I accidentally deleted. I repost it, but of course the following are Ron's sentiments which I neither endorse nor the opposite of endorse (senior moment here. But hey! I've got the flu!)

Father Ron Smith has left a new comment on your post "Why I Hold the Views I Do":

" I cannot see that God wants GBLT folk to declare their nature as God given and therefore right, and something the church should celebrate or bless. I find I cannot ask the church to bless my failures, massive though they are." - Rosemary -

What an absolute travesty!
The fact that YOU cannot see

"that God wants GLBT folk to declare their nature as God-given and therefore right"

does not mean, Rosemary, that you are right on this most important aspect in the lives of GLBT people (Christian or not) - who have no way of being any other than they are created to be.

I have to stop myself from expressing real anger at this sad and mistaken understanding of what a Gay person has to go through - merely to admit her/his sexual-orientation to 'christian' conservatives. This sort of statement is perhaps the best reason why Gays turn away from the certain Church people - who speak of that which they know nothing about. I think Jesus weeps!

You say you are a failed heterosexual. I don't get the drift of that argument. What exactly do you mean? Does that mean you have no husband or children? Or, do you feel you should not have had them?

I cannot for the life of me see how anyone can think of themselves as, for instance, a 'failed gay". What exactly would that mean - in terms of their sexuality? You speak in riddles on a subject that seems inexplicable to you.

Having said that. Thank you Ralph, for the light you shed on the subject of intrinsic, God-given homosexuality. At least, you tell us of your real experience, not something from Alice through the looking glass by Lewis Carrol.

Than you, too, Kelvin, for pointing to the fact that no-one can actually choose their innate sexual-orientation. It is a given - and, presumably by God - if we are all children of God.






Father Ron Smith said...

Kelvin, I'm just a wee bit disappointed that you have not published my comment - especially when you seemingly are happy to publish remarks by Rosemary Behan which degrade the comments of one of your own diocesan congregants - who is clearly upset with the Church on this issue.

However. Don't worry. I won't be bothering you again. Your blog!

Fr. Ron Smith

Kelvin Wright said...

Sorry Ron. Late night. flu. Processing the blog on my phone. Big thumbs. Small screen. Deleted post.

Gillian said...

I might comment on the question about Paul and women and silence and all that ... which seems to appear in an unrelated blog discussion about the value/place of LBGT people in the church and in the eyes of God ... and yet these issues are connected I am sure of it. How curious it is that the only people who have felt secure about their place in the church and their value in the eyes of God throughout history have been white, middle/upper class Western men!! And we could add able-bodied, straight, and many other descriptions to that list ... )
ANYWAY!!
Women and Paul ... and 1 Timothy ... I think Brock is correct to note that these words seem to contradict the practice of Paul (Rom 16, 1 Cor 1.11 etc etc) so how do we deal with that? This contradiction is also evident in 1 Cor, btw, since I have mentioned it - 1 Cor 14.33 and the whole ""it is shameful for a woman to speak in church" business (not Romans as Brock notes, just to be precise), and 1 Cor 11.2-16 where we have women "praying and prophesying" in church (whatever Paul means by the hair/coverings stuff at least he is not concerned that they are p & p in church! It is "how" they are doing it that concerns him - and also how the men are doing it as well, let's not forget (although so many do).
This issue of "practice" versus "teaching" material in the Bible is actually also worth pausing over ... Some readers will elevate the "teaching" over the what is deemed incidental material (Rom 16, 1 Cor 1.11, 11.5 etc). In many ways, this is the place to stop and have a discussion - how do we decide which is which for a start, and what do we do with concepts like "inspiration" and "authority" in this regard?
So, that conversation aside, we then come to the matter of context. How did churches function in the 1st century? As Brock suggests, this scenario of women asking questions in church and thus being disruptive has been posed as a possible explanation for the 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim passages. Indeed, the key command in the 1 Tim passage - which is frequently overlooked - is "let a woman learn!!" Radical stuff really.
This scenario is often put forward as a way to then be able to move past the "silence" injunctions and get on with things! But of course, to readers who are keen to reinforce this "silence" or limited authority for women (ie. you can do "x" but not "y") this response is not acceptable. These words ARE in the Bible and so we need to heed them regardless of the 1st century context!
But then so is "greet each other with a kiss" and "bring me my cloak from Troas" (a clear command from Paul!!) ...

Bryden Black said...

Well Kelvan; firstly, many thanks for your time in replying - appreciated. However, at quite a few levels I sense we still most probably remain at the “miscommunication”stage. How so? Not in any particular order.

Your “welcome” example is perhaps not quite as you like to think. For one can easily view bipolar, not as a God-created phenomenon, but indeed as a manifestation of the Fall (and therefore as something God has sovereignty over, as He does all things, but also as something that does not express his perfect, acceptable and good will for his human creatures). The point of placing such a ‘condition’ in the same sentence as cerebral palsy and/or homosexuality, is not exactly due their being ‘identical’, but on account of the much repeated claim that sexual orientation - of any sort - is “God-given”. Well; is it? True; the APA (both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association) famously - some would say, infamously - reclassified homosexuality during the 1970s, from being a “condition” to being, well, a “non-condition”. But I wonder how many people who read your blog are actually familiar with this history? Are you? From amongst my own 30 years’ exposure to this entire ‘dilemma’ which has afflicted our Anglican Communion these past few years, I most recently came across this most excellent assessment: Robert Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behaviouir Is Changing Everything (Ignatius 2014). It is a tour de force of moral theology combined with cultural analysis; and of course published by a most reputable American publisher.

That you describe the miracle of God’s recreating a Down’s person’s genetic make-up as “amazing” is no more so than all the times Mark’s Gospel uses that word - in response to Jesus’ bringing in the Kingdom of His Father. What is indeed amazing is the bind so many westerners find themselves in when confronted with such testimony. Yet your qualifier - “but that isn’t the case for many others” - is only apt when we begin to appreciate the truly “paradoxical” nature of God’s remedy to any and all manifestations of the Fall and sin itself; i.e. Matt 11:6 in context (vv.2-30, after the disciples’ mission, ch.10, which itself enacts a repetition of Jesus’ Show-and-Tell/Tell-and-Show, Matt 4:23-9:35), that God’s remedy is the combination of crucifixion-and-resurrection, so that we who therefore live “between the times” should fully expect the Whole Body of Christ (Augustine’s totus Christus) to fully manifest both charisms of crucifixion and of resurrection and all shades of grey in between. The pastoral question every time therefore is just this: what’s this specific person’s charism/calling in the Body of Christ? What are they being called to display? In John’s language: to be a sign of the glory of crucifixion, or a sign of the glory of resurrection? As priest’s in the Church of God, a key aspect of our own calling is to assist in both asking and answering such questions, generally and specifically.

Enough for today, I fancy! And thank you for reading this elaboration.

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, +Kelvin. I can sympathise with your lack of dexterity with a, I phone. It takesd me all my time to deal with a computer keyboard. That's why I was disappointed at the non-appearance of the result of a hour's work. Thanks for what you are doing in the blogosphere.

I must apologise to Brian Ralph for my seeming discourtesy in using his surname in my post. That can be a problem with 2 like names!

Father Ron Smith said...

"All in all, I am not sure we are yet asking quite the right set of questions, which is resulting in our probably setting up a really rather skewed form of ‘answers’. -B.B. -

You have already intimated that our job, theologically is to search for the right questions, rather than provide answers, Bryden. Do you feel you have some better ones than Bishop Kelvin poses in his blog? If you do, perhaps you might try hosting your own blog. Just a thought. Agape.

Kelvin Wright said...

Stu, you ask a very searching question. Jesus' words on denying oneself, taking up the cross, losing one's life in order to save it are central to his message - the Gospel he began to proclaim in Galilee. But they are also profoundly enigmatic.
I think he was talking about what modern writers now call the true self and the false self. That is, in order to find what and who we truly are we first have to forsake the layer of dross we - or more accurately our circumstances - we have laid over the top of our true selves. This layer of dross (the false self) is what most of us identify with ourselves. And most of our life is a collection of strategies we have arrived at for protecting and furthering the ends of this false self. To let go of this false self and find our true selves we must firstly know it is there. We must understand how it is constructed and why.

So, in answer to your point I would say yes, self denial is Jesus' central call on our lives. But self denial can't be accomplished without self awareness. If we try to deny ourselves without self knowledge all we will do is bind ourselves to a bunch of prohibitions and strictures which will strengthen rather than diminish the connection between us and our favourite sin.

Kelvin Wright said...

Brydon your emphasis on the fall is intriguing.

We live in an evolving Universe. The entire universe is evolving as is every single thing in it. The continuing unfolding of this truth has profound effects on all of human knowledge, not least on Christian Theology.

There was never a time of primordial human perfection; never a time when our ancestors lived without pain and disease and death. A recent study of hadrosaurs (the duck billed dinosaurs) from the Cretaceous period found that nearly a third of the 100 or so skeletons examined had cancer. So, 68 million years before the first human beings there was disease on our planet; the fall (if this is deemed to be the source of the ills of the universe)predated any possible Adam by a very long period!

The human condition isn't one of being in a period between a perfect past and a perfect future. It is one of being on a path from nothingness to something. We are being built and we are partway through the process, as appears to be the case for the rest of creation.

So, I would say that conditions like the cancer which even as I write resides in my body are not "manifestations of the fall" but an inevitable by product of receiving the gift of life in a material universe. In fact part of the mechanism that gives rise to cancer is the self same mechanism which makes our evolution (and thus our creation) possible.

Similarly, our sexualities in all their bewildering variety are also not helpfully classified as "fallen" or not; they just are: part of who and what we are and in themselves have no moral loading, positive or negative.

And I wouldn't place too much weight on the APA's classification of homosexuality. All the infant science of psychology was doing in the 1970s was adjusting themselves to reflect a shift in social perception.

This is not to say of course that I have no place for a doctrine of the fall. At some stage in our evolution we developed enough theory of mind to formulate a sense of right and wrong and thus the ability to choose right over wrong for its own sake - or not as the case may be. We thus fell from innocence, but our essential condition, in terms of disease or hardship didn't change one iota. And neither, I think, did our wide range of sexualities.

Father Ron Smith said...

Harking back to Gillian's last post; I would venture to suggest that the problem at the heart of both misogyny and homophobia is extended patriarchy: where men are meant to be MEN (macho) and women,helpmeets and painbearers with no opinions of their own.

Amazingly (not you, Gillian) some of the Fairer Sex, commenting in the blogosphere - who don't agree with women clergy - are the most vocal in their arguments, thus defeating Saint Paul's injunction against speaking when "they ought to remain silent".

(Apologies to women who support women in authority)

Merv said...

Hello again +Kelvin. Here's hoping you've recovered from your bout of 'flu.
Being a relative new-comer to Anglicanism I find myself somewhat observing the gay/church issue from the sidelines. To be sure, I have gay friends, & those whom I rub shoulders with in church, as do most of us, so I'm wondering if homosexuality per se is the real issue that is ripping the church apart?
Are you sure it's not the prospect of a revision of the theology of Marriage? This cuts quite close to home for me.
You may have blogged about this before but I would love to hear your views on the sacramental nature of Marriage.
Kind regards,

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for your push back Kelvon. Of course (sic) we live in some form of developing cosmos! And of course the mechanism that grants life, the division of cells, can also morph into cancerous possibilities! I personally know this! Thirdly & finally, of course micro evolution is well established scientifically. The problem however is with macro evolution, which remains more philosophy than science, more prejudice than an evidence based set of conclusions, even now, an “ism”. Nor may we dismiss the Story of Gen 2-3 quite as quickly as you seem to - if the first results of the Genographic Project first published between Science and National Geographic in 2008 are anything to go by. For we find such expressions as “biological Eve” starting to be used, which claims we are all descended from a single woman some 150-200,000 years ago from the heart of Africa, with ALL races emerging out of Africa in a series of migrations, mostly across the Arabian Peninsular less than 100,00 years ago. Subsequent studies, tracing the Y chromosome also, are starting to speak of how we may view human relatedness showing all men’s Y chromosomes to stem similarly from an ancient ancestor in Africa more than 100,000 years ago.

As for that ‘moral’ step from so-called ‘innocence’: the key to Gen 3's “temptation” would seem to be 1 Sam 14, since that is the only other place where the expression “knowledge of good and evil” is found. Here 14:17 is parallel to 14:20, so that textually at least “knowledge of good and evil” equates with “knowing all”; and if one “knows all” then one need not defer to anyone else, one is one’s own authority. There are of course other key textual aspects to the Gen 2-3 Story but their details may not detain us here: the crux is the matter of authority. The Fall therefore has essentially to do with humans arrogating to themselves authority, rather than listening to their Creator, the Author of all, with all the consequences. Sound familiar? Consequently, rather than being some hypothesis about the emergence of a sense of morality, a close textual reading of Gen 2-3 will establish the premise for Jesus’ call to “repentance”, as per Mk 1:14-15. For here is the Messiah, the Representative of Israel & the Human, in due authority since he is under due authority - contra Gen 3's fundamental misalignments. Just so, Lk 7:1-10 ...

None of this however should distract us from the telelogical element necessarily employed in the sorts of moral argument regarding human behaviour - unless of course we wish to be reduced to mere animals in our actions. If ends of human actions and of established patterns of behaviour in institutions are indeed “goods”, then their opposites are normally “evils”. Even biology appreciates the link between form and function! Just so, the unitive and generative aspects of human marriage (between a man and a woman), which support and reinforce each other, notably on account of the slow development of human progeny, are simply denied in any same-sex couplings (whatever their multifactorial aetiology). Now; our culture may have become so narcissistic, so “incurvatus in se”, that such things as human history and social transmission have become irrelevant. Yet the goods of marriage do still stand as a beacon and foundation for the well-being of society - otherwise that great work of Aristotle’s Politics (which I first met in PolSci 101) would have begun rather differently. Therefore, I sense your ‘reading’ of the APAs’ ‘judgments’ in the 70s dismisses far too easily the political, cultural and philosophical contexts of that decade, let alone the decades and even centuries leading up to it.

PS: to point out the obvious, these paragraphs are mostly couched in the form of General Revelation given the way you responded - even if I was tempted to employ Irenaeus’ views of “development”.

Kelvin Wright said...

No Merv, I don't think the issue of marriage per se is in any danger of ripping the church apart.

One of the great mysteries to me is why some issues generate such heat and others don't. One of the less hot issues in the Anglican Church is marriage. We allow polygamous people, in some parts of the world, to remain in communion with us. We recognise marriages that are secular or which are performed in other faiths. We routinely allow people of no faith whatsoever to be wed in our churches. We routinely marry divorced people. I for one think we need to do a major rethink of our theology of marriage but attempts to get the church to do this are met with luke-warm responses at best.

My friend and colleague Jim White sometimes draws a parallel to pacifism. It could be argued that pacifism is closer to the heart of the Christian Gospel than same sex marriage is, and yet it is a complete non issue for most of the church. Pacifists and soldiers sit amicably together in the same church, and each will, without question, accept and support the ministry of the other.

Jesus was pretty clear in speaking of marriage but it doesn't faze us that we don't take a lot of notice of what he said. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and we rip the church apart over it. What the heck is going on?

I think my thesis in the post above is what is going on. Our opinions are not arrived at by logic or by careful consideration of the scripture. They are deep and unconscious, deriving from our biology, our psychology and our sociology. The reasons we use to explain our opinions are tacked on afterwards. Sexuality strikes to the very heart of our being; it opens us to all manner of desires and fears, many of which we would rather not admit to. So it is homosexuality which is the issue because it evokes such a deep response in us.

There are also issues of Biblical interpretation, but we have had these divergences for decades, perhaps centuries and we live happily enough with them; that is, until we have to invoke the Bible to back up our deeply held opinions on matters of sexuality when the stance we take on the Bible suddenly becomes all important.

Kelvin Wright said...

Thanks Brydon.
With regards the biological Eve thing, yes, it is apparently true that every human being on the planet shares some of the DNA of one individual woman. Not one individual man though, which tends to scupper the Adam and Eve thing. And all sharing an individual's DNA is not the same thing as saying that we all derived from one individual woman. My son shares some of my DNA, as will all of his descendents from now until they stop descending. While they might all claim, legitimately, to descend from me they obviously will originate from a wide variety of people.

Your claim that macro evolution (by which I assume you mean evolution in multicellular life forms) is contentious is a bit mystifying. There is a torrent of evidence for it, and approximately zero evidence against it. Every time you fill your car with petrol you are benefiting from the discovery of hydrocarbons found using the assumptions of evolution and of continental drift.

And I certainly don't dismiss Genesis 2 and 3, by the way. It makes perfect sense as a description of the human fall from innocence which was implicit in our attaining the level of self consciousness which is definitive of our species: homo sapiens. As a piece of palaeontology however it leaves a bit to be desired.

Bryden Black said...

Bryden again Kelvin! That was a rapid - perhaps too rapid for genuine digestion - response; many thanks all the same. Three equally quick (sic) things:

1. Y stuff: a wee alteration required perhaps ... I first encountered this delightful Project back in 2008 via a long National Geographic Doco, focussing on that NY district of Queens initially; and so I’d refer you to: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/25/the-human-family-tree-grows-new-branches-on-arbor-and-dna-day/

2. “Macro evolution”: for that macro of macro evolutionism’s axiomatic claims, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTOfsKEO2dY#t=13. NB the delightful rebuttals of Stephen Hawkins’ & Dawkins’ “prejudices” here from John Lennox - whose body of literature and videos cast an enormous amount of light on many of our current ‘confusions’.

3. I see you mostly do not engage in a due exegesis of the actual text as canonically received, but prefer to come to the text hoping to foist upon it some existing notion, looking for a hook in the text to hang this pre-existing notion on ... In your case now: the “emergence of a moral sense”, via a “fall from innocence” - which frankly sounds far more akin to J-J Rousseau (again a character first encountered in Pol Sci 101) than Gen 2-3. But then as Robert Reilly correctly points out, J-J R’s legacy has profoundly soaked into our culture, so I am not surprised you echo it.

The same too could be said of what you say regarding “repentance” via De Mello’s views under that other thread of yours. Well; I’ve read/watched/listened to quite enough De Mello over the years to realise, to put it forthrightly, “repentance” is NOT some ‘awareness’ antidote to maya (Hinduism's "illusion"). Rather, as per Mk 1:14-15 et //, Acts 2:38-39, it is a call for us humans to realign ourselves once more with the Creator’s true purposes for us. We are to come UNDER his authority, IN Christ Jesus, who Himself assuages from all the wretched consequences of misalignment, just as he is also the fulness of all due alignment - the Father's "desire and good pleasure"! - simultaneously.

Cf. NTW's exegetical depiction of "repentance" in Jesus and the Victory of God, pp.246-254 (&ff).

Bryden Black said...

For what it’s worth Merv. While I agree with Kelvin to some extent about the way structural factors might impinge upon one’s own personal views, the root reason I’ve been forced to the conclusions I have about our present dilemmas re homosexuality and homosexual behaviours is that it all strikes at the very heart of the gendered Image in which humanity is created: so Gen 1 & 2. Nor do I see the parallel which Jim White tries to make, as did Peter Carrell as well at our Christchurch Conference on Marriage last August, between Pacifism and Just War holds up. The latter always views itself as the lesser of two evils; hence all the necessary conditions. If there is some parallel, then I have not heard it claimed (by the likes of JW for example) that “same-sex marriage” is a “lesser evil”; on the contrary, the claim is it warrants God’s full blessing.

I could elaborate extensively; but refer you to a reply I made to another commentator on anther blog the other day: http://anglicandownunder.blogspot.co.nz/2014/05/as-all-trade-unionists-know-solidarity.html @ June 4, 2014 at 9:53 PM and June 3, 2014 at 4:52 PM

Thanks ...

Kelvin Wright said...

Thanks for the references Brydon. I am reasonably familiar with mitochondrial Eve, and the significance, and otherwise of what this information represents. I see the John Lennox video is an hour and 26 minutes long, so I may not get round to it for some tIme. But thanks for the clarification of Macro Evolution, and my point still stands. Macro evolution is still consistent with the vastly overwhelming majority of observed data; I don't say all of the observed date, because there are always anomalies, always refinements to me made even in a theory as robust and as longstanding as evolution. I too have my doubts about Dawkins and their ilk.

In terms of my exegesis of Genesis 3, apart from a brief aside made in the comments of my blog, I can't seem to recall the occasion when I might have exegeted it in your hearing. You'll have to remind me of the occasion so I can know which opinions I might have been foisting on the text.

In reference to Repentance, there is nothing in either of the texts you quote which necessarily implies your particular interpretation of metanoia. I might wonder if in these you in your turn not might be foisting some prior interpretation on the text?

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for the further push-back. In haste myself now ...

With "reference to Repentance": those pages from NTW will suffice. And from what I can gather elsewhere, he's not alone. But I guess you might have ready access to Tom's material.

Enjoy Lennox when you get the time - like a long drive to Bluff!

Michael Primrose said...

+Kelvin,

After reading full text of the General Synod resolution on its way forward on the issue of same sex blessings and the Archbishop's Pastoral Letter on the subject, there is a question for which I have no answer.

Why would, or should, any LGBT couple with a gram of self respect remain in communion with the Anglican Church of Aotearoa after what appears to be such a condescending put-down?

Being in what I assume to be a "right ordered, same gendered" gay relationship, which may or may not be monogamous (and I pity the cleric that asks that question of any parishioners bedroom) and which I hope will be life long (but which may not be) all we can look forward to at the moment is to be recognised in public worship. This assumes, of course, that +Victoria authorises the recognition and the vestry or chapter raise no objections to us being publicly recognised as a couple.

Neither a blessing, nor a marriage, but simply a public mention during worship. A sort of "Oh, Look! There's a pair of pigeons! Of course, they are not our sort of pigeons, but we can all wave Hi to them!"

Were we pigeons, we might be better off, for as Father Ron Smith so aptly comments elsewhere on the Web, at the Feast of St Francis or the Christmas Animals Service, we might have been blessed as pigeons. Pity, it is, that we are humans in this case.

I apologise for the anger in my comment, but the response from Synod causes more than "distress" and raises the question

"Why does one bother?"

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Bryden Black said...

... It seems my quick fire replies of last afternoon have dropped into cyberspace; be that as it may; there was ... unfinished business.

Apologies for that haste previously Kelvin but as we both know sometimes other business calls; yet there was that one line of conversation, re the Fall, left dangling ...

Confining ourselves to this thread alone, for the moment, my observation is that whenever you mention anything to do with the Fall, you mostly express the next thing along the lines of “morality”. Now; where does that idea derive from? I assume - and here of course I may be wrong, and in need of your putting me right - I assume you are ‘reading’ the expression “knowledge of good and evil” at face value, to refer to some such notion of “morality” (and thereafter, its emergence etc via some extra, developmental frame of reference). My response to that is this. At first blush, such a notion seems plausible enough perhaps; and yet, when we pick up the hard tools of exegesis and apply them, we discover the rarity of this phrase, “knowledge of good and evil”; so rare in fact that there is only one other occurrence throughout the Biblical literature, in the story of the woman from Tekoa and king David. I shall not repeat what I’ve already said by way of further exegesis, either of that 1 Sam 14 passage or of Gen 3. But it does seem to me that once we’ve done some additional, necessary work on the text, the conclusion is as I say: the crux of the matter at Gen 3 has to do with authority. With implications, to be sure, in the sphere of morality - but also in many other spheres alas, as well! For such are the consequences of humanity’s arrogating to itself that authority due the Author, the Creator, alone. But mercifully too, there are additional effects: the Early Church Fathers were almost certainly correct to speak of some form of proto-evangelism within the text, both re the covering of nakedness and in the woman’s seed. Which interestingly sets us up for Jesus’ announcement ...

As for “repentance”: I trust you will enjoy NTW’s own exegetical contextual work.

All in all, both these issues, and the more generic theme of your initial post re the impact of structural factors upon any of us, are suitably addressed I sense by St Paul’s exhortation at that vital fulcrum of his magisterial Letter, Romans, 12:1-2. For if those factors were indeed as inhibiting upon us as you are perhaps suggesting, then what’s the point of his exhortation? Or the alleged “power of the Gospel”?

Kelvin Wright said...

Hi Brydon;

Let's take the last question first. Paul exhorts us to be transformed. A passive verb you will note. Paul is exhorting us to consent to the Spirits action in changing us.

As to the garden of Eden and the trees. It's not about morality it's about consciousness. I don't think the two trees in the centre of the garden- the Tree of Life and the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil- are arbitrarily or randomly named, but are central to the meaning of the story. No it's not about having some sort of frame of reference or a moral code. It's about attaining a level of consciousness where we are able to tell good from evil. My cat tortures a bird to death over 20 (for her) enjoyable minutes. Yet she is an innocent because she has no knowledge of good and evil and neither is she capable of any such knowledge. I on the other hand would be committing a great evil should I do exactly as she does. At some point our species attained this level of awareness. At that point we fell- we ceased to be innocent. The other tree also signifies a level of consciousness; that of knowing that we are alive and that we will die.

Your claim that Genesis 3 is about authority is revealing. My biggest beef with evangelicalism is that it preaches grace but practices works. The crude caricature most people have of Christianity is that it's not about relationship with God but about being good. If you are good, then God will like you. If you are not good God will punish you horribly. Unfortunately the caricature is usually quite accurate as far as the actual lived faith of many Christians. And you seem to be touting a quite sophisticated version of it here. I interpret your claim about authority this way: god sets up a couple of trees in the garden. It doesn't much matter what they were, as the identity of the trees isn't all that important. He might have chosen the apple or the plum but he arbitrarily chose the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God's purpose is to test the people, to make sure they obey him. He tells them not to eat from those trees, but of course they do, whereupon God gets really ticked off and inflicts them with all manner of curses, including the loss of his presence. He then spends the next couple of millennia trying to get them back into his presence. Have I got it right? That's more or less what I was taught in the early days of my Christian walk. I think my version makes a lot more sense, and allows the story to actually have something to say about the universe I inhabit.

Kelvin Wright said...

Hi Michael;
Thank you for your openness and honesty. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to say.

I think the service of recognition contained in the General Synod statement is a lot more than a mention during the notices. It might be a quite significant event, depending on the ability of the congregation, and the priest to make something of it. It is included in the statement because our own laws mean that's all we can offer in the meantime. But I acknowledge that it's not what you might want. I acknowledge also your hurt and frustration.

I note the way we deal with issues of human sexuality in the church is amply illustrated by the comments section of this blog: lots of debate and quoting of scripture and invoking the name of iconic theologians by people for whom this is all a matter of doctrine and principle.... Forgetting all the while that we aren't dealing with doctrine so much as real human lives.

I'm sorry

Michael Primrose said...

Hi +Kelvin,

It seems strange, in the Twenty-First Century, to be congratulated for both my openness and my honesty in saying that I am a gay man, who is happily living in a committed and loving same gender relationship and that we are, at the moment, in Communion with the Anglican Church in Aotearoa. After 40 years of political activism and social change the gay portion of my openness should and does normally, pass in Aotearoa without the raising of an eyebrow. I would hate to think, that the comment that I would consider myself as a member of the Anglican Congregation would be thought to a brave and challenging statement. Times change, however, if not mores.

When, after a decade of being in love with my partner, I proposed to him, it was to formalise a relationship that had been spent with each of us being in different countries, different continents, different hemispheres even, as a consequence of busy professional and academic lives. I wanted at the time, to make a statement of commitment to my partner, to say that I believed that our relationship was one that I wanted to make permanent, for both the good times and for the bad, and to say that he was the person whom I loved most dearly in the world, and indeed, that love has grown with our commitment..

Whilst there is no need for me to make the confession in public, it will hardly come as a surprise to any modern Kiwi that our relationship up to the act of proposing had neither been platonic nor solely one of pure, unlustful companionship, and thankfully the relationship does not seem to be descending to that either state as time progresses. Fortunately, celibacy is not a virtue with which either of us has been graced, save as the tyranny of distance and separation commands.

It was interesting to note that as soon as our respective families, friends, work colleagues and members of our congregation were told of our change in relationship state, it was immediately referred to as our engagement, we were each respectively congratulated on the brilliance our fiancée, and there were flurries of independent activity devoted to organising the wedding and guest lists. In other words, it was not seen as being any different from any normal Kiwi engagement and the language used was precisely the same.

You say that the Service of Recognition might be a quite significant event, depending on the ability of the congregation, and the priest to make something of it. Given a willing Bishop and congregation, the Service of Recognition could be as elaborate as any normal Church Wedding, complete with crying mothers, stirring music, friends and younger relatives in formal dress, the exchange of rings and perhaps even a homily on the duties of marriage from the pulpit. Indeed, the only thing missing would be a formal blessing of the marriage by the officiating priest and it is possible that most of the congregation, caught up in the happiness of the event, would scarcely notice it’s absence. One could have all the customary usages of a Church Wedding, but just not be allowed the real point of the ceremony, and most people would wonder why some sections of the Church were making such a song and dance over the distinction; a question of form over substance.

The problem is that this debate does, at times, seem to resemble nothing more than a group of dusty Medieval scholars arguing over the vexed question of how many Queens can dance on the head of a pin, whilst outside their windows real life in all its joy and anguish, its complexity and pure simplicity proceeds onwards, unheeding of them.

The curse of irrelevancy has seen the demise of as many Churches as has the act of persecution.

Thank you for saying sorry on behalf of those who forget that their words can wound and even kill other human beings and fellow Christians. However, I would say that hurt and frustration are positive forces in driving the cause of reformation.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

P.S. The answer to the question is, of course, that it has always depended on the nature of the dance party.

Bryden Black said...

Seeing you have begun with Romans 12:1-2, I shall follow suit. I could not agree more with you Kelvin regarding the Spirit’s role in our transformation. But there is far more necessarily going on here than that. Uppermost is the beginning, using the NIV here: “In view of God’s mercies, therefore, ...”. And those who know me well or have encountered what I’ve been writing over the years will recognize these two verses as almost a mantra - if I were to have one, that is, apart from The Jesus Prayer. Therefore, what you subsequently try to depict as my type of Christian spirituality (based on your own life’s experience) is simply off target. For the “therefore” is also pivotal: Paul has spent the entire Letter so far, chs 1-11, presenting the Divine Mercy, what it is and why. “Therefore, in view of this ...”

Furthermore, while the triune God most surely has the primary role - and through the Incarnation, perhaps the entire role! - our first human response echoes well the Letter’s opening chapter re the essential Jewish concern of true worship vs. idolatry. Just so, the language of “bodies”, “sacrifice”, and “reasonable/spiritual worship/service”: this is what humanity aligned with Reality looks like. And lastly, your very point re “transformation” is itself the obverse of not “letting ourselves be squeezed into the world’s mould” (using JB Philips now) - which itself prompts the question, What does “this world/age” look like, how does it manifest?

Next, Gen 2-4. Of course the names of the two Trees are vital! In the first place, the cross reference to 1 Sam 14 could not exist; it would be nonsensical to probe its meaning apart from that story of the woman from Tekoa. Then secondly, the text is actually silent about anyone’s eating from the Tree of Life - until the fateful close of ch.3, vv.22-24, which precisely precludes it. And with Life behind us, ch 4's death and increasing violence ensue. Yet even here there’s mercy: “at that time people began to invoke/call upon the Name of the Lord” is the close of the section.

I really must thank you immensely for illustrating what a hermeneutic which might be deemed to be “consonant with Scripture” (Motion 30), but not one exactly derived directly from Scripture, looks like. That is, it begs the basic question: What is our default axiomatic premise? Which ‘grand-narrative’ really controls us, into which we may immerse our own little story/stories, to give them meaning? Whose/what image and mould might we be actually reflecting? It all reminds me of a “Theology & Culture” unit I run, which begins with two maxims: “The last creature to ask questions of the water is the fish”; “the first time a fish knows itself to be the creature it is is when it is caught and on dry land”. Sound familiar? Authentic Christian Faith and Reality thereafter is encapsulated in our being caught by the Master Fisherman, taken out of Adam and all that that means, and then immersed into the Living Stream who is the Person of Jesus (so Phil 3, Rom 5-8, and the entire Fourth Gospel).

So; thank you for your time and for hosting this wee bit of conversation. Shalom! Bryden (sp!)

Michael Primrose said...

Hi +Kelvin,

I'm not sure why I need to be praised for my openness and honesty. Aotearoa is one of the most accepting of places I have had the pleasure of living in, and there seems to be no issue, in general society, with my being "out" with respect to my gayness and to my relationship.

If I need to be praised for my openness and honesty, because I have raised these issues in the context of an Anglican discussion on "right ordered, same gendered marriage", then I would have to say that such a situation would reflect badly on the Church itself and the way it views LGBT members of its congregations.

I should point out, in all fairness, that I have not met with any such discrimination from my local clergy, chapter or congregation, so I may have been lucky.

As my previous comment with respect to the Service of Recognition appears to have vanished into the Wilds of the Ether, I will not bother repeating either my analysis or my thanks.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Kelvin Wright said...

You have read me wrong Michael. I don't know you, and personally regard it as none of my business who you are in love with or what you and your partner might choose to do together. Further, I have no great interest in the extent to which your personal relationship status is known. What I did note was that in your first post you expressed a considerable amount of anger and were honest and eloquent in the expression of your feelings. I appreciated that, and was sorry that the church has caused you such pain. It was your openness about feelings and not your being out that I was commenting on. Most of the church's debate on sexuality quickly devolves to safe (for the participants) discussion of theology; by making the conversation one of principles we avoid the uncomfortable reality that it is real people with real lives that we are talking about. You didn't play that game, and I thanked you.

Anonymous said...

oh dear. . . Kelvin could you ask your contributors if they could maybe use fewer words. Yes, too many words and to be honest you have not been economical either. I would ask them myself but I don't want anyone to kickback at me. I have told you because you are a kind man and I know I can trust you and you have a good memory. I mostly enjoyed reading your stating that you are not GLBT what a relief !!! Last week I was at the shop and there was a man there with a rough bread and in a dress. He was buying the the normal sorts of things that goes to show you that we are all really pretty much the same.

Michael Primrose said...

Hi +Kelvin,

It is said by many, that silence is golden, but certainly it is less confronting. If people do not talk about the reality of their lives and their relationships, especially in this context, then it is very easy for those who are making the decisions to retreat into the safe havens of theological principles and thus avoid the uncomfortable necessity of remembering that they are dealing with real people and real lives.

In this case, however, not only is the personal political but the personal is also religious.

I was extremely careful in making the statements I did about my relationship and its acceptance in society, because they were designed to counter specific arguments and principles, that had been put up, in this ongoing debate. by various theologians. Reality was being quite deliberately thrown into the arena to counter rather esoteric theoretical principles.

Whilst I would normally accept your disinterest in our relationship, and I have no wish to encourage a return to the cleric at the bedroom window, I am not sure that in this case the position is totally valid. As a Bishop and a member of the General Synod, you will be discussing and voting on any forthcoming proposals on same gender blessings and possibly marriage. However uncomfortable it may be for other members of the General Synod you have the ability to bring reality in through the windows to enlightened the dry discussion of other peoples sexuality and relationships.

If LGBT members of the Anglican Church retreat into silence and are too polite to discuss their relationships and their love with other members of the Church, and the clergy, then silence is not golden, but rather tarnished and corrupted. The lack of positive and affirming voices on the part of LGBT congregation will allow the Church to make decisions on their behalf that will have no toehold in everyday reality.

This is why I am being more open than I would rather be, since I am giving the narrative of a positive reality to someone who will have a voice in this debate. If it is not of interest, then I think that is a pity.

If, as a heterosexual couple, we came to you to be married, but had said in all honesty that although we loved each other, both of our families, all of our friends, all of our work colleagues, and even the other members of our congregation were opposed to the marriage, had grave reservations about it and thought it a thoroughly bad idea, what would your counsel be? Would you take into account the views of all those associated with the couple and advise caution and delay? Or would you state that Love conquers all and rises above all petty opposition? And what chance would you give of the marriage, without any support, surviving to be a life long partnership? Yes it could happen, but would it happen?

In our case, all those who are important to us are fully in favour, but the Church is prevaricating, playing for time and not quite finding the ability to say Yes or No. When our marriage goes ahead, however and wherever, it is conducted, we will be seen to be married by civil society and those dearest to us, but not by the Church. The participation of the Church will be seen to be irrelevant in the eyes of many, and the reality will be our wedded state.

Michael Primrose, Christchurch

Merv said...

Well +Kelvin, we're still here snooping on these fascinating exchanges.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my & others comments.

Perhaps I am a-typical, but could I come back to my suggestion regarding Marriage by applying part of your thesis to my own experience:
"Our opinions are not arrived at by logic or by careful consideration of the scripture. They are deep and unconscious, deriving from our biology, our psychology and our sociology. The reasons we use to explain our opinions are tacked on afterwards."

When I married, I was of the opinion that Marriage was between a guy & a gal. You're right - this opinion was not arrived at by logic or careful consideration of scripture. It was deep & unconscious deriving from biology, psychology & sociology.

40 years on, I perceive I have tacked on some reasons to explain my opinion, e.g. a) the gift of 4 children & 8.9 grandchildren; b) the perception that 'leave, cleave & become' applied to a man & a woman; c) the hint that my relationship in marriage to a woman somehow mirrored the relationship of Christ to his Church; d) the implied approval by both Church & State back in '74 that my opinion was valid.

It seems your call is that I am more or less pre-disposed to hold these views, which is not the way of discipleship. Only with the Spirit's guidance to understand why I think this way will I be free.

This is almost to hard to bear. This freedom looks bleak to me. On the other hand, I foresee a time when my opinions will be anathema, even to those within the Anglican church.

Perhaps the opprobrium will be deserved.